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.