Saturday, November 17, 2012

It Really Is About Students

As one of America’s research universities, the University of Rhode Island has a complex, multifaceted mission. Our mission includes a host of priorities including undergraduate education, graduate education, research, scholarship and creative work, economic development, technology transfer, public service and outreach, creating community, fostering diversity, consulting, workforce development, and much more.  And we have a multitude of constituencies, both internal and external:  faculty, and staff, all the people of Rhode Island, state and local governments, the federal government, businesses, NGOs, agencies, and more.  It is occasionally possible to overlook what is most important amid all the activities, the seemingly ever-increasing demands, and the multitude of constituencies. 
Three events this week illuminated the central truth that students are the reason we exist as a university.  Each captured a different moment in the life of URI, and each reaches beyond that moment. 
On Tuesday night the Honors Colloquium featured Stephanie Chafee, a nurse and a passionate advocate for affordable health care.  Lynn and I hosted a dinner for Ms. Chafee, students, and faculty, which her husband Governor Lincoln Chafee also attended.  To observe our students energetically and enthusiastically engaging Ms. Chafee and the Governor was simply inspirational and a cogent reminder of the quality and ability of so many of our students.  
On Thursday we celebrated our international students with the official opening of the flag display in the Memorial Union; see the story at (  The event was part of International Education Week 2012 at URI.   This was in many ways a straightforward acknowledgement of the growing diversity of the University of Rhode Island community: flags from 99 countries were displayed, representing the homes of the students at the university – with room for more.  But as Alice Odhiambo ( class of 2011, and currently pursuing a master’s degree at URI) so beautifully pointed out, the flags also symbolize that the University of Rhode Island is a second home for our international students.  It is important, even critical, for all of our students, not just those from abroad, that URI become a more internationally focused university.  In order for our students to succeed they must be prepared to participate and lead in a global economy, and an increasingly globalized society. 
Also on Thursday, a committee of our faculty presented a thoughtful, thorough report to the Faculty Senate on how the University of Rhode Island can improve undergraduate academic advising for students, especially undergraduates.  In my view, excellent advising is an intrinsic component of excellent teaching.  A consistent theme expressed by our alumni and many current students in regard to their academic and career success is the commitment of our faculty to advising and mentoring them.  Strong advising can be as important to undergraduate education as the curriculum itself. To the faculty who are actively engaged in improving advising I say, “Thank you very much” for your good work on this critical element of our teaching.  I look forward, as I am sure our students do, to the implementation of your recommendations. 
Yes, the research and scholarship conducted at the University of Rhode Island is also part of our core mission. It also greatly benefits students. Student engagement in research and creative work is more important than ever, for both graduate students and undergraduates alike.  As we work to increase research, scholarship, and creative work at URI, as we seek to help rebuild the Rhode Island and the national economy, and as we strive to serve the people of our state and nation, we must remember that, in the end, all that we do really is about our students and their future.  Their future is the world’s future, and higher education and the University of Rhode Island have always been about creating the future. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Of Hurricanes, Halloween, and Achievement

The last week was an eventful one for the University of Rhode Island.  In many ways we were much more fortunate, by virtue of our location, than many of our sister institutions of higher education in the northeast.  We also benefited substantially from the careful and thorough planning by our emergency management team, the leadership and staff of our Housing and Residence Life unit, the communications staff, academic staff, and, especially the dedicated people of URI’s Facilities and Grounds unit.
Thanks to all these people, the University of Rhode Island and our community came through the storm and its immediate aftermath extremely well. See for a summary.  We didn’t do everything perfectly, and some parts of campus still are without power, but all of us can be thankful for the efforts of those at URI who worked in advance of, and then throughout the hurricane itself to protect our students, staff, and the campus. 
Our students handled the storm and its aftermath extremely well, although some of our students living off campus are still without power, as are some of our staff. But we must remember that the University of Rhode Island community now extends across the United States and the globe.  Many of our students come from parts of the northeast that suffered severely in the hurricane. Our hopes and prayers go out to all those who suffered damage to, or loss of, their home or business, or, more tragically, injury to or loss of a family member or friend.. 
Collectively these events again remind me of the value and importance of community: of working together, supporting one another, grieving together, and celebrating together. This year, Halloween (which can often pose some minor challenges) coming immediately after the hurricane, provided a much-needed time for our students to unwind and enjoy themselves. The LGBTQ Center and Uhura Sasa sponsored a party and eXposure another. Both were well attended and reportedly enjoyed by all.  It is worth noting, I think, that all of these student groups were founded to foster and support diversity and community on the campus.  I am also aware that our faculty, advisors, and support staff are reaching out to students to offer their support and assistance in dealing with the toll of the storm and its aftermath. 
Building community together, developing friendships and relationships, and experiencing the joys of both giving and receiving support, are some of the most valuable parts of an education at the University of Rhode Island.  We recently celebrated some of our most distinguished alumni in our Distinguished Achievement Awards ceremony.  All of them spoke eloquently of the importance of the friendships and relationships formed at URI that had made, and still make, a difference in their lives.  When we calculate the value of a college education, we should not forget the enormous and tangible positive contributions that being a part of a university community really makes.