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.