October 25, 2013

State of the University

Address to Faculty and Staff


Although she is not here today, I want to say a special thank you to Sandy Russ for stepping forward with such grace to fulfill a role she did not expect to take on until next fall. As most of you know, our Faculty Senate Chair for the 2013-2014 academic year was Steven Garverick, professor of electrical engineering and computer science. He died suddenly September 26th.

In Steve, Case Western Reserve had a leader who listened as he worked with faculty and administrators across the university. We had a professor who developed engaging new courses, and conducted important research. Just this spring, Steve and his team demonstrated amplifier circuits that could operate at temperatures of up to 600 degree Celsius. In the words of the daily, he "proved the impossible possible."

He exemplified much of what is great about Case Western Reserve: Collegiality. Leadership. Commitment to students. Innovative courses. And...research with impact.

Let me hasten to add: those traits are not all that is great about Case Western Reserve. Nor can they remotely begin to capture Steve's wonderful complexity. If you have ever given a eulogy, or simply tried to express sympathy, you have experienced just how inadequate the English language can be.

All too often, words fail.

Even so, we still find ways to understand and be find common ground and move forward, together. We do this within our families...our communities...and yes, our university.

Our university.

Again and again and AGAIN since 2007, you have come together, communicated with one another, and moved Case Western Reserve forward in ways none of us could have imagined. So, six years after I stood before you at our first "State of the University," I find myself in another circumstance where words feel insufficient—although a far happier one.

What I want to say, simply, is Thank You.

...for collaborating with undergraduate admissions to excite prospective students about the opportunities here.

...for inspiring our alumni and other supporters to bring us to more than 90 percent of our campaign goal.

...for performing research and creative endeavors that change lives, deepen understanding, and lift our spirits.

...for teaching, mentoring, supporting our students.

And, most of all, for coming together to support one another...and this university.

Like Steve Garverick and his amplified circuits in overheated environments, you proved the impossible possible. And for that, I am profoundly grateful. Now, as we stand on this stronger platform that you built, we ask: What's next?

Hundreds of you have grappled with that question during the past year. Through the strategic planning process that Provost Bud Baeslack led, five themes have emerged:

  • Interdisciplinary research.
  • Innovation in curriculum and pedagogy.
  • Intentional preparation for leadership.
  • Commercialization of research and entrepreneurship of all kinds, and
  • Involvement and advancement of faculty, staff, students and alumni.

Not everyone approves of every major point, much less the supporting details. Some object to discussion about interdisciplinary efforts without equal focus on individual disciplines. A few criticize calls for innovation as antithetical to excellence. And still others see talk of translational research as a diminution of the true soul of a university's work: the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake.

To everyone who articulated concerns or queries, we are listening. Revising. And working to clarify the plan.

Every question and comment testifies to the most important element of any process: Engagement.

A plan can be the very epitome of ideal. But without people who care about its content, nothing happens.

We will not always reach consensus. In fact, one of the glories of a university is how many disparate viewpoints proliferate.

But...if we don't speak up...if we don't debate...if we don't even try to chart a common course...we are condemned to stay exactly where we are...unmoved, unmoving, sinking under our own static weight as higher education changes around us.

If I have learned anything about this community over the past six years, it is that you are willing to speak up. To object, to endorse, or, at times, to do both.

Without question, you care. You want this place to become all it can be. And, you are willing to achieve that aim. Based on where we were as a university and where we are today, I am confident that you can, indeed, achieve just about anything.Which brings me to the next question we face today: How do we ensure that we realize our collective potential?

When Jerry Goldberg led our 2007-2008 strategic planning process, we spoke a lot about choices. We agreed then that no university—actually, no organization whatsoever—can be all things to all people. Today that message is all the more true for higher education, particularly given current constraints of declining federal support and increasing emphasis on affordability.

As outstanding as our own institution's fundraising is, the overwhelming majority of dollars given go to designated areas - an endowed professorship, a specific scholarship, a program or a building project. And, the money doesn't come in all at once. Sometimes people pay out pledges over years; sometimes the gift doesn't arrive until after the donor's death. As a result, our ability to invest over the next five years depends largely on existing dollars - and the new income we manage to attract.

We already have some examples of the latter:

  • The Jack, Joseph, and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences' online master's degree program
  • The law school's online LLM program that goes live next year
  • And engineering's advanced degree programs in translational health, fire science and wireless health.

Of course, these programs do FAR more than generate revenue. They increase access. They provide opportunities. And they bring to the world people well educated in fields of increasing need. These programs are, in short, win-win-win.


That is our goal every time. To benefit students and society. To advance this institution. And to sustain you—the people who provide the scholarship and teaching, the research and support. Identifying and seizing select opportunities requires effort. It demands a willingness to embrace new activities. And, at times, it entails ceasing or decreasing others. Just as we no longer use typewriters to compose journal articles, or literal card catalogs to find books, we all individually adapt to new realities.

At the institutional level, we will do the same. We will assess existing investments. We will work to increase efficiency...and we will continue to move Case Western Reserve forward in meaningful ways.

I use "we" with intention. We have the Faculty Senate and Staff Advisory Council, a university-wide budget committee and many other groups that participate in decision-making. In addition, each school and the College has its own structures for shared governance. As we transition from developing a plan to implementing it, we need your ideas, your perspectives—in short, your engagement.

Opportunities to engage will abound. Please, seize them. We need you.

I want to make another point about implementation. First, the plan is not a blueprint that says precisely where the electrical outlets and lights will be. Rather, think of it as a conceptual drawing. In other words, it is a framework—one that we then fill in with our most promising ideas.

Remember, the university plan is a document for multiple audiences—many of them outside our campus. By definition, then, it must be broad and relatively brief and overarching. Most of all, it must inspire. From here, you will provide the programs and projects, the specifics and schedules. You will do so through university implementation teams… and, even more, through your work on individual school and College plans. As I said before, we need your engagement.

The university strategy represents a moment in time. We anticipate trends, but also recognize that the future will include the unexpected. As we worked on the last plan, for example, The Plain Dealer announced on the top of page one that the Cleveland Clinic wanted to take the Lerner College of Medicine to Columbia University.

It is little surprise, then, that Forward Thinking included not the slightest mention of the medical education building that we now are creating together. But the document did proclaim that we wanted to be an institution that "imagines and influences the future." This opportunity aligned with that vision. And so, after extensive assessment, we acted.

Let me offer another example. The phrase "art history" appears nowhere in the pages of our previous strategic plan. Today, we not only have a renewed joint PhD effort with the Cleveland Museum of Art… but also one that drew acclaim and investment from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation... And, last month, it earned a $15 million commitment from Joe and Nancy Keithley to create the Keithley Institute for Art History.

Make no mistake: Our best ideas and people will draw resources. Effort matters. Ability matters. And execution on excellence matters most of all.

As much as I appreciate the model of the solitary scholar achieving unprecedented expertise in a discrete field, I also see increasing value in collaboration. Look around this campus:

  • There's the malaria detection device that has the potential to save millions of lives per year. Developed as a prototype at think[box], the device is the result of collaboration among a grad student in engineering and management, an undergrad in computer science and accounting, and a professor of international health. It also received support from four engineering departments, the physics department and the Functional Electrical Stimulation Center.
  • There's the groundbreaking "opposing domains" paper published last year in Neuro Image. It shows that when we engage in analytic thought, we deactivate the part of the brain associated with empathy - and vice versa. The research involves the departments of cognitive science and psychological sciences from our university—and radiology from a second institution.
  • Finally there are our new Systems Biology and Bioinformatics degree programs, which involve faculty from a dozen departments across four of the university's schools.

Many more examples exist. Consider this one outside of teaching or research: Move-In day. This summer we saw unprecedented levels of collaboration among Enrollment Management, Student Affairs, the Alumni Association, ITS, and several other units. Over the summer, more than 700 of our graduates wrote personal notes to welcome members of the Class of 2017 to their community. And on that August Sunday, hundreds of students, staff and faculty pitched in to get first-years settled.

Families noticed. They, in turn, will tell other families back home. And then, we hope even more high school students will consider Case Western Reserve. It is, as they say, a virtuous circle. We each bring unique knowledge and expertise to this campus. When we draw on those diverse strengths, the results often exceed anything we could have done alone.

To be sure, collaboration is not an end in itself. Bringing people together doesn't inexorably begin a path to certain progress. These efforts involve careful thought… unsung work… and, most of all, individuals who authentically believe in the possibilities they pursue. It takes something else, too, something intangible but no less important: People who, by their very nature, move others to act. They are so positive, so dedicated, so full of ambitious ideas and common-sense solutions that others want to work with them. We all can think of committee meetings we relish because we are so impressed by some of the other members. This campus overflows with such individuals. They are, in large measure, why we have managed so many improbable gains so quickly.

As we note in the strategic plan, one of our challenges going forward is to ensure that we recognize, reward and increase opportunities for these individuals—and bring yet more of them to our campus. Our recent alumnus Mort Mandel had it right when he titled his book: "It's All About Who." Today, however, I am going to take a bit of literary license. Today, at Case Western Reserve, it's all about you. You in this room. The hundreds of you across this campus. And the tens of thousands of you who are alumni and supporters spread across the globe.

You have made us what we are today. And over the next five years you will take this university to new levels of imagination and influence. And you will do it as you have before, together. For all that is yet to come for Case Western Reserve, let me say in advance: Thank you. I can't wait to see what we do next.