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.