Monday, December 27, 2010

Season's Greetings

This is a joyous time of year for many of us, spending time with our families and friends, and looking forward to the year ahead. But it is important to recognize that this is not true for everyone. For too many among us, the Christmas season is lonely and painful, and the anticipation of a new year does not bring renewed hope but a heightened sense of loss. I am mindful of the many sympathy cards that we have sent to members of the URI community and to others in Rhode Island this year. Many years after both of my parents have passed, their loss quietly reverberates throughout the holiday season. It is likely that for many their more recent losses are far more keenly felt. In addition, for many individuals and families in our state and across America, the recession has struck with particular brutality – damaging, if not destroying hope, and diminishing, if not obliterating, the joy of the season.

One of the many things for which I am thankful is that the University of Rhode Island is a caring and generous community. From the students (the recent $11,000 check from the fraternities and sororities to Habitat for Humanity is a great example) to the faculty and staff, and in more ways than are readily counted, ours is a community that seeks to help and serve those who need assistance, comforting, and the reassurance that they are valued, and even loved. Our community at URI is far from what it needs to be, but building a better and stronger community is one of our highest priorities, and I believe we are making good progress. I hope, for the benefit of all, that we can build upon the progress we have already made, and strengthen our efforts as we go forward in 2011. Let us commit ourselves in the year ahead to restoring hope where it has been lost, and bringing joy where it was missed. Best wishes for the New Year!

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Centrality of Language Education

Facing substantial and protracted budget difficulties, several public colleges and universities (and even many private institutions) have responded by instituting efforts to reorganize or eliminate academic programs. Such efforts can be both useful and productive. For public institutions in particular, we do have the responsibility to regularly evaluate our programs in order to insure that we make the best use of the limited resources that we have. Maximizing the use of our resources and being accountable are duties that we owe the people of our state and our students, their families, and others who support us. In the current fiscal climate every college and university has to make difficult decisions and choices.

Recent announcements by some institutions that educational programs in selected foreign languages will be reduced or eliminated have generated a vigorous debate. It’s not my purpose here to criticize those decisions, but simply to point out that such steps would, in my judgment, be wrong for the University of Rhode Island. Because it is an important strategic priority for URI to prepare our students to thrive in a global economy and an increasingly globalized society, education in foreign languages is central to success. Certainly language acquisition is important, but not necessarily sufficient; we should strive, whenever possible, to acquaint our students with the cultures, literatures, and histories of those parts of the world where those languages are spoken. Rather than reducing the scope and breadth of modern language education at URI, I believe we should be seeking the resources to expand our programs and to increase the number of our students who study foreign languages.

And, indeed, we are. A proposed new major in Chinese will soon, I am confident, add to our existing modern language majors in Spanish, German, French, and Italian. In addition, we offer students the opportunity to study Arabic, Japanese, Portuguese, modern Greek and Hebrew. It is noteworthy that our Italian program is the largest undergraduate-only program in the country. Enrollments in our other modern language majors and minors are also strong. URI’s International Engineering Program (IEP) is internationally regarded for its excellence and impact. Students in the IEP graduate with dual degrees in an engineering discipline and a foreign language program. Language education is also a key component of our programs in International Business and in the Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design Department. The University of Rhode Island has established a leadership role in the integration of the study of modern languages into academic programs where it is important.

In my view, the current national and international contexts argue for the continued, and even accelerated, development of academic programs with an embedded modern language component. For example, as the University of Rhode Island builds the Harrington School of Communications and Media that will be examining modern communications and media in an international context, I think we should consider options or programs that include foreign language education.

I am writing this in China – a country that is impossible to visit without appreciating the value and power of multilingual capability and multicultural understanding. One of the keynote speakers at this year’s annual meeting for Confucius Institutes, Dr. Tu Weiming of the Institute for Advanced Humanistic Studies at Beijing University, Research Professor at Harvard University, and a former Professor at Berkeley, emphasized that as our world becomes more complex the ability to understand and accommodate diversity becomes more, not less, important. I agree. He further, and provocatively, suggested that one of the reasons for America’s rise to greatness was that, for much of its history, we were a “learning” nation, productively assimilating, adapting, and using knowledge and wisdom from across the world. Dr. Tu suggested since World War II America has become a “teaching” nation, and less interested in learning from others. This also strikes me as accurate and, if so, it would pose a threat to our continued competiveness and success. As a nation, we can still learn a great deal from other nations and cultures; the knowledge and wisdom we gain will make us stronger. Those Americans with language skills and multicultural understanding will provide much of the essential leadership in this regard. It is the responsibility of the University of Rhode Island to educate such citizens.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


During the last several days I had the opportunity to attend two events – which I anticipated to be useful – but which turned out to be, somewhat to my surprise, both productive and inspiring. These were the annual Providence Business News awards for business excellence and the annual meeting of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce.

Why inspiring? Because both events attracted a large group of Rhode Islanders who are working hard to build businesses, create jobs, serve the people of the state, and make our communities better. We, certainly I, sometimes forget, amidst all the bad news and disappointments, just how many bright, hard-working, and committed people we have here. These are people who see the opportunities among the challenges, and who are dedicated to doing all that they can to build a brighter future for our state and those who call it home. The University of Rhode Island is the “home” of thousands of faculty, staff, and students who are also dedicated to solving the problems we face and creating a better future. I am very thankful to be a part of the URI community and of the larger community of Rhode Island.

We should not forget those of our friends and neighbors who are facing very real and difficult challenges at this time. These folks need all that we can do to provide assistance now and to create a stronger economy, a more mutually supportive community, and a better society. Let’s keep our eye on those goals.

Best wishes for Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Thank You for Yes on 2

I would like to personally thank the people of Rhode Island – those who supported and endorsed Question 2 on November 2, and all those who voted for it. We understand very well the difficult and challenging financial climate for the state and for all of us who live here. One thing is clear: we can succeed in creating a new, vibrant, and sustainable economy for Rhode Island only if we work together. The broad coalition of those who worked on behalf of the new building for the Chemical and Forensic Sciences at URI is a great example of how Rhode Islanders can work together. Business and labor organizations, law enforcement groups, faculty, students, staff, alumni, and many others across the state came together to promote a “yes” vote on Question 2. The University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College, and higher education officials collaborated very effectively to make the case for investment in a new chemistry building for URI and the renovation of a building for the arts at RIC.

But more importantly, the people of Rhode Island understood the importance of investing in the critical infrastructure required to be competitive in the 21st century. Education in the central disciplines of science and technology, and advanced, innovative research in the chemical sciences is essential to create the knowledge-based economy that is important now and into the foreseeable future. The University of Rhode Island is fully committed to capitalizing on this investment by the people of the state in order to expand the scope and impact of both basic and applied research and development to the benefit of the state.

One aspect of these new facilities warrants particular mention. Providing more opportunities for undergraduate students to become engaged in research, scholarship, and creative work is one of URI’s highest priorities. I am convinced that the learning environment and outcomes provided by student participation in research and creative work is essential to the success and competitiveness of our students in the 21st century. The laboratories and facilities in the new Center for the Chemical and Forensic Sciences will provide outstanding opportunities for students in this regard. Our Chemistry Department has a strong and consistent record of engaging undergraduates in research, and this new building will enable the Department to significantly expand and improve the students’ research experience.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Celebrating Agnes Doody and the Faculty of URI

On Friday afternoon, the University of Rhode Island dedicated the Agnes Doody Auditorium in Swan Hall. The ceremonies were capped by an inspiring “first lecture” by Dr. Doody herself, which kept everyone’s rapt attention while sharing the incredible rewards of teaching at URI, as well as illustrating once again the amazing impact and enduring influence of Dr. Doody. Few people have the pioneering spirit, the drive, the devotion to excellence, and the unfailing commitment to helping others that so epitomizes Dr. Doody’s career. In case you missed it, the Providence Journal ran a nice story on the event; see the link below:

The University of Rhode Island has a long tradition of outstanding teaching and dedicated engagement with students, which is well exemplified by our current faculty. I am especially pleased by the commitment of the faculty to involve undergraduates, as well as graduate students, in their scholarship, research, and creative work. Of the many, many examples that I could provide, I’d like to share four with you in this post.

Dr. Cheryl Foster is Professor and Chair of Philosophy at URI. Known for her outstanding contributions as a teacher, scholar, and citizen, Cheryl was awarded the URI Foundation Teaching Excellence Award in 1997. She served as Associate Director of the Honors Program, encouraging top URI students to compete successfully for some of the most prestigious national and international scholarship and fellowship awards. She conceived the idea of creating special spaces outside classrooms where students could interact and exchange ideas with each other and faculty that helped inform the renovation of Lippitt Hall where Honors is now located. In 2009, she was the awarded the College of Arts and Sciences award for Undergraduate Student Advising. She was a member of an interdisciplinary IGERT team including Judith Swift, Peter August and others that received a large grant to integrate the humanities with the sciences in graduate education. A strong advocate for the value of a liberal arts education, Cheryl brings philosophy into the marketplace and the community to help people solve complex problems via her civic engagement and outreach. A brilliant thinker and speaker, she is often invited to address audiences on a variety of subjects.

The Institute for Immunology and Informatics (I'Cubed) was recently established under the leadership of Annie De Groot, M.D., as part of the University of Rhode Island's emerging Biotechnology Program. The Institute maintains offices at URI's main Kingston, RI campus and occupies lab and office space in the historic Shephard building as part of URI's Biotechnology Center in Providence's Jewelry District. The Institute applies cutting edge bioinformatic tools to accelerate the development of treatments and cures for diseases like HIV and tuberculosis. The Institute also aims to quickly make these tools available to the global research community for the development of vaccines for tropical diseases and other infectious diseases. Professor De Groot makes it a priority to engage URI students in the cutting-edge research in I'Cubed, involving them directly in research that is critical to improving human health, I’Cubed supports a wide variety of education and training efforts that will provide opportunities to teach the next generation of students the tools for effective vaccine design.

In the College of Nursing, Dr. Mary Sullivan, a dedicated teacher, scholar and the director of graduate studies, has taught highly-regarded undergraduate courses in childbearing and reproductive health and graduate courses in research methods and concept development and directs a variety of student projects. She serves as a research scientist at Women & Infants Hospital, and is an adjunct professor of pediatrics at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. In June 2010, Dr. Sullivan received an invitation to serve as a member of the NIH Nursing Science: Children and Families Study Section, Center for Scientific Review from July 1, 2010 – June 30, 2014. Dr. Sullivan’s selection was based on her demonstrated competence and achievement in her scientific discipline, which included the quality of her research accomplishments, publications and other significant scientific activities, achievements and honors. Dr.Sullivan received her PhD in Nursing from the University of Rhode Island.

Dr. He "Helen" Huang is an Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering. She joined the URI faculty in Fall 2008, after completing her PhD degree from Arizona State University and a post-doc at the Neural Engineering Center for Artificial Limbs (NECAL) at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. Dr. Huang's primary research areas are Neural Engineering and Rehabilitation Engineering. Three graduate students and five undergraduates are currently working with Dr. Huang on highly innovative research projects in areas such as the neural control of prosthesis for arms or legs, development of intelligent and adaptive control systems for therapeutic devices, modeling and analysis of neuromuscular control of movement, and understanding how spinal cord stimulation can help recovery of patients with spinal cord injuries. In addition to teaching undergraduate and graduate classes in biomedical engineering at URI, she is the Director of the URI Neuromuscular Rehabilitation Laboratory (NREL), whose goal is to improve the quality of life of persons with motor disabilities. She has received research awards from Delsys,Inc., the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Rhode Island Science and Technology Advisory Council, the US Department of Defense, and the US Department of Education.

As Agnes demonstrated so consistently and elegantly throughout her time at the University of Rhode Island, great teaching involves far more that eloquence in the classroom. Engaging students fully in the life of the mind, in the scholarship and creative work that is at the heart of a research university, is essential to preparing our students for success. Thanks Agnes, for your great example. And thanks to all our faculty who devote themselves to our students, to excellence in teaching and in scholarship, and who make the University of Rhode Island such a special place.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

2010 URI Diversity Week

Last week the University of Rhode Island celebrated Diversity Week. This has become an extremely important event in the life of our community because all the events celebrate and advance of our core values and highest priorities: building a community here that seeks unity in the midst of diversity and that welcomes, affirms, and supports all of its members. I especially appreciate, as I think we all should, the efforts of so many individuals, offices, and organizations that make Diversity Week happen, as well all of those who sponsor and support their dedicated and valuable work. I specifically want to thank the Co-Chairs of this year’s planning committee: Dr. Judy Van Wyk, Melvin Wade, Dr. Paul Bueno de Mesquita, and Dr. Mailee Kue. I would also like to thank our key sponsors, the College of the Environment and Life Sciences, Lifespan, and MetLife Auto and Home. In addition, the URI Departments of Psychology and Sociology, the Honors Program, and URI 101 all contributed to a special week.

The diversity of the events during Diversity Week was striking. Ranging from the two keynote lectures, by Dr. Dana Fullwiley and Dr. Esteban Gonzalez Burchard, which shared new insights from genomics to issues of race and identity, to the Seven Continents Culture Show (coordinated by Brandford Davis), which featured 20 student organizations, URI experienced quite a week.

I especially enjoyed the “Out of Diversity: We Speak” forum organized by Professor Jody Lisberger, the Director of Women’s Studies at URI. Every speaker’s voice was eloquent, thoughtful, and inspiring. Each speaker presented a unique and illuminating perspective on diversity, grounded in their life and experiences. Two comments during the presentations really struck home with me. The first comment, made by Alycia Mosley Austin was: “Many people view diversity as a threat to excellence, but I know I’m not alone in the belief that diversity is a requirement for excellence.” I think Alycia is right. The second comment, made by Danielle Henderson was: “It is not the things that happen to us that define us, it is the things that happen because of us.”

A lot of things happen to us, as individuals, as a community, and as an institution. Let’s not let those things define us. We can facilitate or create many great things for our community, our state, and our nation. Let’s resolve to have those things define who we are and what the University of Rhode Island stands for.

Helen Mederer (Professor, Sociology); Stephanie Lavallee (senior, physical therapy major; WMS minor); Alycia Mosley Austin (Director, Graduate Recruitment and Diversity Initiatives); Danielle Henderson (senior, WMS and English double major); Zuleika Toribio (junior, Psychology and WMS double major); Ian Reyes (Assistant Professor, Communication Studies); Adeyemi Ogunade (graduate student in economics from Nigeria, Schmidt Labor and Research Center)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Welcome Back! (Summer in Rhode Island, Part 4)

Last week was another exciting and rewarding time for the University of Rhode Island – move-in weekend and First Night were great successes and a new academic year began on a high note. However, there is one additional, and important, outcome of the intense level of this summer’s activities at URI that I would like to share.

Over the summer, in just about three months, state-of-the-art instructional technology was installed in fifty-two (52!) classrooms that previously had no modern teaching technology at all. Every one of these classrooms received the latest digital media technology, including HD projectors, blu-ray players, and digital switching controls. Assisted-listening devices were installed in classrooms for 50 or more students. The electronics in each room are networked to a central server that monitors the status, enables projector lamps to be replaced prior to failure, and provides a means to remotely assist an instructor. New whiteboards have been installed, walls and ceilings repaired, and many other improvements were made. Fifteen additional classrooms received major technology upgrades, again to a state-of-the-art level. These dramatic improvements place the University of Rhode Island among the leaders in our region and will substantially improve the learning environment for our students.

But that is not all. A major expansion of the campus wireless network was completed, and the conversion to a new IP based telephone system began. Collectively, these innovative, rapid, cost-effective improvements demonstrate what we can achieve.

What makes these remarkable achievements even more satisfying is the tremendous dedication and teamwork of several departments at URI and our private-sector partners. Joe Fuscaldo and Kathy D’Aguanno led the URI team. The Media and Technology Services Department (directed by David Porter), especially the Network Facilities and Operations group, the Classroom Media Assistance group, and the Network Service group, did exceptional work throughout the project. Many other URI departments made important contributions: Purchasing, Enrollment Services, Facility Services, Custodial Services, the Paint Shop, the Electrical Shop, Access Control Office, Safety and Risk Management, Capital Planning and Design, Capital Projects, and the Property Office. Most of the time our employees in these departments and offices work behind the scenes – they deserve our thanks and appreciation. So do our partners – HB Communications, Creston, Energy Electric, and Legacy General Contracting – who worked extremely well together and with our URI team.

We are working hard to facilitate the innovative use of the new technology. Several training sessions for faculty have been held, and others will be scheduled. The Instructional Technology Center in Chafee will be upgraded with funds provided by the Champlin Foundation (another critical partner for URI) and brought online in October.

Our efforts to improve the environment for teaching and learning at the University of Rhode Island will continue and grow, on many fronts. The work of this past summer will make an enormous difference to our students and faculty for years to come.

Welcome back, everyone. URI is a better university than when we completed the last academic year in May.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Summer in Rhode Island, Part 3

One of the emerging priorities for the University of Rhode Island is building a strong, vibrant, and supportive community that views diversity as a strength and where equity is a core value. This is reflected many places, including the Academic Plan, in URI’s “Cornerstones”, and in my inaugural remarks. Two events occurred this summer that reinforced my conviction that building a community where all our members are valued and supported is critical to the future of the University.

The first was a gathering of GLBT students, along with members of the faculty, staff, administration, and the local community at my house on a Friday evening in August. The meeting was partly in response to a highly regrettable incident in which someone driving through our campus yelled “faggots” at a group of our students who were doing nothing more than walking and holding hands. Our students made it clear that such experiences were, all too frequently, a part of their lives at URI and that the response of the university to these incidents was, for whatever reason, all too frequently inadequate. This is simply unacceptable. That any of our students should have to live with harassment and fear should be intolerable to all of us. No one would want to endure what some of our GLBT students have endured, and no one should have to, at least while at URI. It’s that simple, I think.
Consequently, I have asked several members of the senior leadership team, as well as others, to work with our students to develop and implement strategies to improve the experience of our GLBT students at URI. A key element will be to find a way to provide a new home for our GLBT Center that substantially improves its functionality while providing a safe and welcoming environment for students who wish to go there.

It is important to note that these actions are a central component of URI’s renewed emphasis on promoting community, equity, and diversity. The Equity Council will play a central role in this effort. A very productive retreat at the end of August among members of the Equity Council and the administration generated a number of goals and specific actions for the coming year in the following areas: (1) curriculum and teaching; (2) faculty and staff diversity and development; (3) student diversity and development; (4) administration of diversity efforts; and (5) communications concerning diversity, equity, and community.

There is a lot to do. It seems to me that, despite missteps and setbacks, the University of Rhode Island has a tradition of dedication to diversity, equity, and community on which to build. We have a growing commitment to building a strong and diverse community among students, staff, faculty, and the administration. I think it is also important for us to pursue this goal, as well as our others, in an open and transparent fashion. One cannot solve problems while trying to ignore or hide them. It will take time and a lot of effort, but I am confident we can succeed at URI.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Summer in Rhode Island, Part 2

One of the great treasures at the University of Rhode Island, as well as for the state and the nation, is the Graduate School of Oceanography. Not surprisingly, the GSO had a very busy and productive summer. I would like to highlight a couple of its activities.

URI scientists at the GSO have contributed in multiple ways to understanding the impacts of the BP/Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill – from predicting the spread of the oil (Dr. Malcolm Spaulding had a prominent role in this) to assessing strategies for mitigation.

In June, our research ship (the R/V Endeavor) was quickly outfitted in order to make critical measurements of subsurface oil in the Gulf. Dr. Christopher Reddy (URI 1997 Ph.D. in chemical oceanography from GSO) was a key member of the scientific team. Their characterization of a continuous plume of oil that was over 50 miles long, at a depth of greater than 3,000 feet, was published in the August issue of the prestigious journal Science.

Their findings have numerous important implications for understanding the consequences of the massive spill, and also are relevant to understanding the ultimate prospects for degradation of the oil by microorganisms. The results of the research have garnered worldwide coverage; Dr. Reddy and R/V Endeavor have certainly received (and earned) far more than 15 minutes of fame!

This has also been a hectic but enormously productive summer for URI/GSO scientist and explorer Dr. Bob Ballard, who is very familiar with the bright lights. Using the cutting-edge facilities of the Inner Space Center at the GSO, as well as command consoles located around the world, scientists, students, and kids of all ages can participate in ocean exploration – live and in real time. The capabilities are simply amazing! I had the benefit of a demonstration from Bob himself at the recent “Friends of the Graduate School of Oceanography” reception in the Ocean Science and Exploration Center. You can check this out yourself at Note that a lot of URI faculty and graduate students are part of the scientific research and exploration associated with this voyage of the E/V Nautilus (owned and operated by the Ocean Exploration Trust).

As the GSO looks forward to its 50th anniversary, it can look back with a great sense of accomplishment on a stellar record of achievement. Given the talent, dedication, and energy of the URI/GSO faculty, students, and staff, we can readily anticipate an even brighter future.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Summer in Rhode Island, Part 1

Regrettably, our first full summer in Rhode Island is coming to a close. It will be great to have all our students back at the University of Rhode Island but the summer here has been delightful. It’s also been very busy. A lot of research, scholarship, and training gets done at URI over the summer – by faculty, research staff, graduate students, undergraduates, and even high school students who work in the facilities and labs. Last week I attended a terrific small poster session, organized by Professor Angela Slitt of the College of Pharmacy, to highlight the research done by students over the summer. Their work was first rate, and the enthusiasm of the students was infectious. And the results of the students’ research are relevant to multiple issues in human health. Dr. Slitt and her students are making a difference.

I also had an opportunity to visit the teams of URI faculty and Rhode Island teachers working on innovative ways to make lasting improvements in the teaching and learning of science in our middle schools and high schools. This program, known as the Rhode Island Technology Enhanced Science (“RITES”) Program is a partnership between URI, RIC, Johnston Public Schools, and RIDE, with the participation of school districts and teachers across the state. Supported by a major grant from the National Science Foundation, the goal is to impact all of the 686 middle and high school science teachers and their over 83,000 students with excellent science teaching materials and practices in order to dramatically improve the quality of science teaching and learning. Judging by the commitment and dedication of the teachers, faculty, and staff I met, they will succeed.

The University of Rhode Island hosts a wide variety of summer events – ranging from the superb Kingston Chamber Music Series, the Summer Writing Conference, and the Balloon Fest. One of unique ones for me was Leapfest, one of the many ways that URI partners with our Armed Services. You can get a good sense of this event from the video on our homepage, which you can also watch here:

These are only a few examples of what goes on at the University of Rhode Island in the summer. I will be writing about several more over the next week or two as we prepare for the start of the fall semester. In the meantime, here are a few more photos from one of my personal highlights for the summer – climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

URI and Rhode Island at the Summit of Africa

Here are a couple of pictures with my daughter, Samantha, from the summit of Kilimanjaro – the highest point on the continent of Africa. We reached the summit at 6:50 a.m. on June 10. I took a few days off between URI-related trips to Cape Verde and India to make the climb.

Allow me to share a couple of reflections on the climb. There was a lot about the climb that I will always remember and treasure, but far beyond the beauty of the mountain and the challenge of the climb, the most important thing was the time I got to spend with Samantha. On Father’s Day nothing means more to me than I the time I have shared with Samantha and with my son, Chris.

I wish all of our URI dads a great day.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Commencements and Budgets

Let’s just say that my first commencements at the University of Rhode Island will always be a special time in my life. Beginning with the 50th reunion for the class of 1960 and the dinner for our honorary degree recipients on Saturday night, the weekend was full of traditions and celebrations that made a lasting impression – not just on me and Lynn, but on everyone we met.

URI’s commencement ceremonies were a powerful and inspirational reminder of the most important outcome of the University’s work: the young (and some not quite so young) people who are better prepared and empowered to pursue their dreams. They are now in a much stronger position to help create a brighter future for themselves, for Rhode Island, for our nation, and for the world. They are more capable, and in many cases, more dedicated to transforming our world to make it a better place. Their time at the University of Rhode Island, learning with our faculty, with each other, and with the many partners who work with URI, will pay off extremely well – not solely for them, but also for our society. Indeed, the education they received at URI will have a substantial, significant, and lasting impact, extending even to generations that follow the class of 2010.

I am reminded that this was a point forcefully made by the Chairman of the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education, the Honorable Judge Frank Caprio, during his testimony before the House Finance Committee. There are no other investments that the State of Rhode Island can make that will have the enormously beneficial and lasting impact than their investment in education, especially higher education. As the state once again prepares its budget in the midst of difficult financial times, I hope that they remember that it is past time that the state takes concrete steps to improve the lives and futures of the people of Rhode Island. Investing in and supporting higher education and the University of Rhode Island is a critical and essential step to recreating a vibrant and sustainable future for our state.

Friday, May 7, 2010

China and International Education

I began this post while sitting in a 777 on my way back from China, and bound for Detroit, then Providence. It was a pleasure to travel with Dr. Sigrid Berka (Associate Director of the International Engineering Program), Professor Zongqin Zhang of Mechanical Engineering, Michael Byrnes (a member of the IEP Advisory Board) and Erin Papa (Coordinator of the Flagship Program in Chinese at URI). We were in China to visit our university partners here associated with our IEP program and the Flagship program, and to meet with companies where URI students may be provided internship opportunities while studying in China.

I think our meetings, visits, and discussions went extremely well. Both senior administrators and faculty at Zhejiang University, Nanjing University, and Southeastern University appeared to be impressed and pleased by the nature of our International Engineering Program and by the commitment of the students involved to study and work in a Chinese language environment.

Moreover, they appeared to be uniformly enthusiastic about developing broader and deeper relationships with URI, encompassing student mobility between institutions certainly, but also faculty visits and exchanges, cooperative academic programs, and research collaborations.

The companies we visited, all of whom were affiliated with or components of global corporations, were equally enthusiastic about working with URI. All the companies agreed to create paid internships for URI students that would engage our students in projects directly related to the goals and priorities of the companies. This is exactly the kind of experience that is so valuable educationally and that I believe should become a distinguishing feature of undergraduate education at URI.

Without any doubt, there are numerous and appealing opportunities for the University of Rhode Island in China. Most importantly, our students who gain the capability to engage China, and understand its language and culture, will be exceptionally well prepared to succeed in a global economy, in a global society, where China will play an increasingly important role. Some pictures, taken during our visits to universities and companies, are below.

Our visit to China, while rewarding, was also sobering. If the United States truly wishes to retain its current position of global leadership, we need to increase our investments in education. Each of the universities we visited has been designated a key national university by the Chinese government. All of them are among the top universities in China. All of them are benefiting from substantial, sustained government and private sector investments designed to dramatically improve their international educational impact and their research capabilities.

In contrast, all of us here have witnessed the systematic and systemic disinvestment in public higher education in the U.S. If we are to build a sustainable knowledge-based economy in Rhode Island and the United States, then we must invest in building knowledge. China is.


URI Mechanical Engineering Professor Zongqin Zhang, Chinese Flagship Coordinator Erin Papa, Board Secretary, Admin. Director of HengTian Karen Wu, IEP Assoc. Director Sigrid Berka, IEP Student Joseph Hackman, President Dooley, HengTian Relationship Manager Cindy Shi

Former exchange students from Zhejiang University (spent fall 2009 at URI) Gracie Qin and Rachel Liu, President Dooley, Erin Papa, Michael Byrnes, Sigrid Berka, Zongqin Zhang

President Dooley and Zhejiang University President YANG Wei

Professor HONG Wei, Director of the State Key Laboratory of Millimeter Waves, School of Information Science and Engineering, Southeast University

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Today are the formal inaugural ceremonies, so I will be brief. I simply wish to thank all the faculty and students who participated in yesterday’s symposia and poster session. Those events made Wednesday, April 7, 2010 one of my very best days in Rhode Island. The enthusiasm, energy, and manifest commitment to excellence of the students and faculty at the poster session was inspirational for me, and everyone I spoke with who attended. The quality, breadth, and impact of the research and scholarship shared by the faculty speakers at the symposia was outstanding, even exhilarating. To all who wonder if the University of Rhode Island is truly capable of transforming the world and helping to create a brighter future: talk to the faculty and students who presented their work yesterday. They are already engaged in creating that future.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Spring Break

While it’s raining (again!) here in Rhode Island, I hope that our students are enjoying spring break. Although we generally think of spring break as a time of rest and relaxation, there is a lot going on for many members of our community. This is a particularly busy time for our student-athletes: our men’s basketball team is still competing in the NIT; baseball softball, tennis, golf, track and field (both men’s and women’s) and rowing all have competitions during the week. We wish all of our teams success and appreciate the fact that our student athletes are great ambassadors for URI. Go Rhody!

But there’s much more. URI students are participating in at least three substantial and important service projects this spring break. Hillel led a group to New Orleans to support the continuing efforts to rebuild housing in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The URI Saves Volunteer club is in Richmond, Virginia working in soup kitchens and with Habitat for Humanity. The URI Women’s Center and the Honors Program team up to sponsor a Habitat for Humanity trip to Birmingham, Alabama. Undoubtedly, there are even more service projects going on than this; we are just beginning to set up a database to keep track of everything our students, staff, and faculty do via the Clearinghouse for Volunteers. But I think these projects illustrate extremely well the determination of members of the URI community to make a difference.

Work also continues apace on two major projects for the spring – working with the General Assembly on our budgets and capital projects, and planning for the inauguration events April 7 and 8. A frequent topic of discussion has been the recommendation by the Governor to place two major building projects on the November ballot to be funded by general obligation bonds: a new on-campus chemistry building and a nursing education building to be located in the “Knowledge District” of Providence (which will be shared with Rhode Island College). I believe that both of these projects are vitally important to URI’s future and to the future of the state. Our current chemistry facilities located in the Pastore Chemical Laboratory are obsolete, and many years past the expected useful lifetime for such facilities. Further, there is insufficient space for critical instructional and research needs. Some students have difficulty scheduling their chemistry laboratory classes for lack of capacity. Modernizing and expanding our instructional and research capacity in chemistry will be important in building a new knowledge-based economy in Rhode Island. Biotechnology, engineering, marine sciences, pharmacy, nursing, and allied health sciences are all important to Rhode Island’s future and all require a foundation in chemistry.

The nursing building has certainly been in the news – and for good reason. A new state-of-the-art shared facility in Providence will dramatically enhance nursing education at both URI and RIC. Further, it will help us significantly expand and strengthen our partnerships with other programs and health care providers. And it has the potential to serve as a catalyst for development of health care-related enterprises in Providence and Rhode Island. If we are successful, this would represent a new and productive approach to collaboration and cooperation by higher education in Rhode Island. It is also one that would provide a great return on the investment by the citizens of our state.

With regard to the inauguration, I’ll have more to say about that in my next post. For now, I want to note that a major purpose of the inauguration is to showcase the strengths and achievements of URI. The symposia, poster sessions, lectures and colloquia on April 7 will highlight the amazing achievements and contributions of our faculty and students. They truly are transforming the world.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

URI Student Town Hall Meeting

A little over a week ago, I met with a group of students in an open meeting organized by David Bedard, the President of the student government at URI. I very much appreciate David's efforts in pulling this event together, and also the coverage provided by The Good 5¢ Cigar. From my perspective it was very useful and informative, with many excellent questions ranging from parking to the curriculum. I would like to briefly comment on a couple of topics that were covered that I think warrant particular mention.

There were multiple questions that related to the quality of student life on campus, and what we might collectively do to improve student life on campus and student engagement. This is an issue that is central to URI's efforts to facilitate student success. It may be timely to bring students, faculty, staff, and university leadership together to examine this issue and to develop specific recommendations to improve student life and engagement both on the Kingston campus and in and Providence. Enhancing student life and creating more opportunities for service and leadership can significantly improve learning, the acquisition of critical skills, and our relationships with one another -- all of which can contribute to the lifelong success of our students. Many alumni have emphasized to me the importance of their participation in activities outside of the classroom to their achievements. Strengthening our community will help all of us. I expect that our students will have many thoughtful and creative ideas about this; Vice President for Student Affairs Tom Dougan and Provost Don DeHayes will be taking the lead in exploring with students, faculty, and staff how URI can achieve its goal of a diverse, welcoming, and thriving community. I certainly would personally welcome your thoughts and suggestions as well.

On another note, URI is moving ahead with the implementation of the new academic plan, which will create exciting new opportunities for students to be involved in research, scholarship, and creative work across all disciplines, and will emphasize experiential learning in internships and service. As an initial step, we started an undergraduate research fund and a graduate student enhancement fund this past fall. We will be examining general education at URI and the possibility of moving to a curriculum where four-credit courses compose a more substantial part. There are, and will be more, opportunities for students to be directly involved in this important effort, and I hope that many of you will participate.

I am looking forward to many more occasions to talk informally with students and hope that you will find such occasions as enjoyable and informative as I do.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Helping Haiti

I write to call your attention to the URI Helping Haiti Campaign that is now underway across the campus. The entire community - students, staff, faculty, and administration – is involved. All of us should be especially proud of the leadership once again demonstrated by the students of URI. Please check our home page for all the events that are scheduled and for ways that you can help.

The University of Rhode Island has a wonderful history of dedication to assisting those in need and of working to make our world a better place. The Feinstein Center for a Hunger Free America, the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies, and the innumerable opportunities for community service are notable examples of URI’s commitment to making a difference.

Even our research facilities are employed in the service of others. Our primary oceanographic research vessel, the R/V Endeavor, is departing at 2 pm tomorrow to deliver portable living shelters and other supplies to Haiti. It will also spend 14 days mapping the faults and related structures along the coast of Haiti in the vicinity of the January 12th quake. Many of the Graduate School of Oceanography’s staff worked very hard to prepare the ship for this mission on short notice. On behalf of all of us here at the University of Rhode Island – thank you!

As I am confident you know, our tag line is “Think Big, We Do”. But the people of URI can also say “Think Service, We Do”, "Think Peace, We Do”, “Think Caring, We Do”. It’s a source of joy for me and many others that the University of Rhode Island aspires to be a place that lives those words.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A New Year, a new decade, a new era for URI

Last week I formally announced the creation of the Strategic Budget and Planning Council for URI. This Council, which is advisory to the President, is a new concept for the university. It will have the responsibility for developing the university's budget recommendations and priorities for my approval. The Council will operate in an open, inclusive, and transparent way to define our strategic priorities and goals. It will also develop resource allocation recommendations to achieve them. The Council consists of 20 individuals, including vice presidents, deans, faculty, staff, students, and an external representative. The Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs will chair the Council. To facilitate the participation of the entire university community, a web site that will include agendas, minutes, relevant data, and contact information will be established in the near future. I believe that an open and transparent budgeting and planning process guided by the Council will improve URI's resource allocation decisions, will strengthen shared governance at the university, and emphasize that shared governance involves shared responsibility. These attributes of the new process will help us build a stronger community.

There are more changes on the way. Several task forces that include faculty and students are actively engaged with developing strategies for the implementation of our new academic plan, which will function as a framework for innovation and improvements in our academic programs. As one example, members of the faculty are designing about 30-40 new general education courses focused on the grand challenges of the 21st century. Our new Harrington School of Communication and Media is another great example. Faculty in those multiple disciplines have been working closely with benefactor Dick Harrington and other external communication/media experts to design an innovative curriculum that includes distinctive student experiences. I should also note that we have engaged members of the President's Advisory Council to seek external comments and perspectives as part of our implementation of the academic plan.

URI's research and scholarly activity is growing significantly, with our faculty assuming positions of international leadership in science, engineering, social science, the arts, and humanities. Our research programs in biotechnology, the life sciences, health, ocean engineering, and textiles are gaining global recognition. The worldwide renown of URI's programs in oceanography, marine biology, coastal science and policy, and ocean exploration continues to grow. The International Engineering Program, which involves integral and excellent education in a foreign language, is a model for interdisciplinary, global education. Importantly, the work of our faculty in the humanities and arts is gaining increasing recognition for its creativity and impact. The University of Rhode Island is the state's research university. It is clear that our statewide impact is growing substantially. Our faculty and students are making a difference in K-12 education, bringing new resources into the state to improve the preparedness of the state's teachers and the success of its students. We are working to improve health and healthcare in Rhode Island, to improve the climate and prospects for economic development, and to protect the environment. During my first seven months here, I have been gratified and excited to see the willingness of the business community, government, and other sectors to form new, close working partnerships with URI. Consequently, I have no doubt that URI will play an increasingly larger role in building a better quality of life for all Rhode Islanders.

There is a lot more to be done and many challenges ahead. And time is of the essence. But, as captured so well in the January issue of Rhode Island Monthly, I am convinced, now more than ever, that the University of Rhode Island is up to the task and that our next decade will be our best decade.