October 26, 2012

State of the University

Address to Faculty and Staff


Good afternoon.

I want to begin with a short video that provides a snapshot of one of our biggest stories from this fall: The Class of 2016.

(Video plays)

I just love that video, because it captures the energy of move-in weekend so well. And they are here because of all of you: because of the commitment to excellence of our remarkable faculty and staff. The Class of 2016 includes 1,372 students who have come to us with an impressive set of scholarly accomplishments.

They are among the highlights of what is truly a pivotal time at Case Western Reserve. We have reached milestones both financially and academically, while aspiring to reach even greater heights. I am going to spend the next several minutes summarizing how far we've come—and where we hope to go as we head toward 2026, our bicentennial.

That milestone won't occur for another 14 years. Yet given the pace with which education is evolving, 2026 is approaching fast. The ways that we interact with and serve our students are changing rapidly and in more ways than just online coursework. We'll discuss some of those changes in a moment.

First, however, I want to take a few minutes to appreciate where we are right now. Together, we have reason to celebrate. We have made reputational gains. This university's overall ranking in U.S. News and World Report rose to 37 this year—up one spot from last year. After four consecutive years at the same position—41st—it is gratifying to be able to build on last year's three-rung jump with another increase.

We have celebrated some stunning research victories, such Gary Landreth's discovery in February that a drug currently prescribed to treat cancer appears to reverse cognitive decline in mice with Alzheimer's disease - a major breakthrough in the potential treatment of Alzheimer's disease in humans.

Late last spring, a team of researchers from biomedical engineering, pharmacology, physics, radiology and the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center discovered a new way to deliver chemotherapy drugs to hard-to-reach tumors—by using nanochains that slip into the tumors and distribute medication throughout the tissue.

This summer Chemistry Professor Alfred Anderson concluded that fuel cells are inefficient because the catalyst most commonly used to convert chemical energy to electricity is made of the wrong material.

Those represent just a fraction of the amazing discoveries being made each and every day on our campus.

Our faculty are recognized nationally and internationally for their leadership and scholarship. Two weeks ago, Distinguished University Professor Richard Boyatzis, from the Weatherhead School of Management, was listed among the top 10 most influential thinkers in a survey of 11,000 human resources directors around the world.

In addition to grabbing headlines, our research is landing grant funding. Recent wins include a $64.6 million dollar renewal of our Clinical and Translational Science Award from the National Institutes of Health, which was led by principal investigator and dean of medicine Pam Davis.

We have also celebrated creative accomplishments, including the publication of Professor Thritty Umrigar's sixth novel, entitled "The World We Found," which was hailed by critics nationwide. Our theater program also received added attention for the accomplishments of alumna Elizabeth A. Davis, who earned a Tony nomination last spring for her role in the Broadway musical Once.

And we are attracting the attention of donors. Thanks to Bruce Loessin and his colleagues in University Relations and Development, we have new attainment totaling more than $755 million toward our $1 billion capital campaign, Forward Thinking. This is far ahead of where we thought we would be at this phase of the campaign, and this is a campaign that touches every aspect of university life. Supporting our faculty is a critical component, and I'm pleased to tell you that, since the start of the campaign, donors have created a remarkable 27 new endowed professorships.

The generosity of our donors has allowed us to pursue exciting capital projects, including construction of the Tinkham Veale University Center and planning for three, high-impact facilities: the Maltz Performing Arts Center; the Richey-Mixon Building, which will become the new home of Think[box]; and a medical education and research building.

We also have greatly expanded our international programs. Last fall, under the leadership of Associate Provost David Fleshler, we opened a newly established Office of Education Abroad and welcomed our first-ever study abroad advisor. We now offer students more than 700 opportunities for international study, including short trips led by faculty during semester breaks, exchange programs and direct enrollment with partner universities.

More international programs are coming, thanks to some innovative partnerships launching soon. Last summer the Weatherhead School of Management announced its new Global MBA program, which begins in the second half of 2013. Weatherhead is joining with the schools in India and China for this shared academic venture.

And this spring, the university will launch two, semester-long study abroad programs—one that provides academic and performance opportunities at London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and another that offers internships and cultural experiences at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Both programs were initiated by our College of Arts and Sciences and will be offered each year to students at Case Western Reserve as well as those from other universities.

Another effort of which I am very proud is online learning, an effort led by our Mandel School and its dean, Cleve Gilmore. This spring, MSASS will launch the university's first-ever online degree program.

It is truly the proving ground for this concept - that the university can continue to offer the same high-quality education and rich interaction with faculty in an online environment. The school's motivation in developing the online degree was to bring its program—ranked No. 9 nationally—to more students.

MSASS is partnering with our IT Department's online learning initiative. Other schools, including nursing, are beginning to look at this process as well.

We are also strengthening unique partnerships and creating new partnerships. In addition to the international programs I just mentioned, we are partnering with institutions right here in Cleveland, including the Cleveland Museum of Art. Our joint doctoral program in art history dates to 1967 but is in the process of being re-envisioned thanks to a generous grant. I am happy to announce today that the university and the Cleveland Museum of Art will share a $500,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The university is receiving $300,000 of the total amount, thanks to the great work of Professor Catherine Scallen and Dean Cyrus Taylor. The grant will be used to fund the development of four new graduate-level courses in museum and collecting history and collections-based seminars that will stage exhibitions at the museum.

I am also proud that we are building a rich, diverse campus. Under the leadership of Marilyn Mobley, the university's vice president for inclusion, diversity and equal opportunity, together we created and adopted a Diversity Strategic Action Plan, which I like to call our road map for inclusion. We are making great strides, but I know we can—and will—do better.

Finally, among our accomplishments this year is a larger, more diverse and talented pool of applicants, a trend that we expect to continue moving forward. The Class of 2016 was culled from 14,782 applications - more than double the number we received just five years ago.

This year looks equally promising. Rick Bischoff, whom we hired in 2009 as vice president for enrollment management, shared a great story with me from a recent recruitment trip to Chicago. The difference between the fall of 2010 and the fall of 2012 was, in his words, "night and day." In one school, he met with 20 students, versus 1 or 2 a few years back.

Rick said that in each high school, there were students who had visited our campus and who knew other students at Case Western Reserve. Another recruiter from Admissions Office spent a week in the Greater DC area and reported a similar experience.

So our hard work clearly is paying off.

Rick and his team in enrollment management are working with our deans and the provost to determine the ideal number for our incoming classes in the years ahead. Right now, we estimate that the figure is between 1150 and 1250. In some years we may surpass that, while in other years, we may fall a bit short. But we know that establishing a target gives us the ability to serve our students well in classrooms, dining commons, and residence halls.

I understand that classrooms currently feel crowded for some faculty members, and the provost has formed a committee to address that issue and others related to our new, larger student body. I am grateful for his efforts, and I look forward to hearing the group's recommendations—which we will share with the Faculty Senate, the Staff Advisory Council and with all of you through faculty-staff meetings at the individual schools. Another group working to address the needs of our new students is our First-Year Advisory Council. Members include faculty and staff whose goal is to retain these students through graduation. The effort is being led by Edwin Mayes, our inaugural director of First-Year Experience. I applaud his efforts and those of this important committee.

An area we are watching closely is faculty satisfaction. We take this very seriously. Surveys conducted by the Faculty Senate show that we have work to do in this area, and we will be moving to address challenges that you have identified.

Recognizing and rewarding our star faculty and staff can be challenging in tough economic times, but we are identifying meaningful ways to do this. To honor exceptional faculty, in 2010 we revived the Distinguished University Professor award—a permanent, honorific title that acknowledges the outstanding contributions of full-time, tenured professors with distinguished academic records for research, scholarship, teaching and service. This designation represents the highest honor the university bestows on a member of the professoriate. We celebrated our third class of Distinguished University Professors at Convocation in May with the induction of Professors Jim Anderson, Claudia Colton, Eva Kahana, CC Liu and Alan Rocke.

We expanded The John S. Diekhoff Award to honor four, rather than two, outstanding teachers and mentors for their work with our graduate students.

I also am proud each year at commencement to present winners of the Carl Wittke and Bruce Jackson awards, which recognize exemplary undergraduate teaching and outstanding mentoring, respectively. Nominations come from students and colleagues, and these awards are a special testament to the devotion of our faculty and staff to serving our students.

For staff, each year we give the President's Award for Distinguished Service, which honors up to three staff members whose outstanding contributions to our campus culture have had a transformational effect on colleagues, students, or visitors. The Staff Advisory Council is our partner in this endeavor, and SAC works extremely hard to ensure that staff are recognized for their lasting contributions to our campus.

We continue to showcase our talented faculty. In early 2008, we started the Faculty Spotlight Series at Harcourt House, where we invite esteemed faculty members to discuss some aspect of their recent scholarly work before an audience of donors, trustees and other friends of the university. These events raise awareness of our remarkable faculty and the great work that takes place every day at Case Western Reserve, and I am really grateful to who have graciously agreed to present.

Our audience always responds enthusiastically, and I like to think that some of those 27 new endowed professorships I mentioned earlier sprouted from these gatherings. Recently, this series featured Jay Geller, the Samuel Rosenthal Professor of Judaic Studies, who attracted a standing-room-only crowd of more than 100 guests. In September, we heard from Professor Michael Weiss, who discussed diabetes and ways to re-engineer insulin to better serve patients.

The provost and I continue to visit faculty and staff at each school each semester. At these informal gatherings, we share news that affects the university, and solicit feedback. We also take questions, and I will tell you that we find these meetings valuable in allowing us to learn more about your priorities.

We are working to support faculty and staff in other ways, such as through the President's Committee on Childcare Options, co-chaired by Professor Eileen Anderson-Fye and HR manager Amy Sheldon. This group reconvened this fall and meets monthly to examine different options for supporting working parents. This year the group is exploring short-terms fixes, such as a partnership with an existing day-care provider, and well as the viability of a child care center on or near campus.

In the area of research, we are investigating ways to replace shrinking federal dollars. Led by Bob Miller, Vice President for Research, our goals are to foster interdepartmental research, coordinate projects, and seize opportunities, such as commercial partnerships to offset the decline in federal research funding that we see coming.

Contributing greatly to this cause is our Government and Foundation Relations team, which has worked to strengthen our relationships with foundations, legislators and other institutions that provide support or expertise to the university.

More than 80 percent of the university's federal funding comes from one place—the National Institutes of Health. But we see tremendous opportunities to expand into the departments of defense and energy, and we are working toward that goal. We celebrated a victory in this area when our Case School of Engineering led a consortium that secured a $30 million Defense Department grant to devise manufacturing improvements. Congratulations to Dean Jeffrey Duerk and his colleagues for their great work on this important project.

Meanwhile contributions from foundations have more than doubled from $24 million in 2007 to $51 million in 2011. And just a few weeks ago in this building, we announced two large gifts from the Cleveland Foundation and the Mt. Sinai Health Care Foundation, which each pledged $10 million dollars for our proposed Medical Education and Research Building. These grants are the largest ever for each organization, and I am truly grateful for this extraordinary vote of confidence in our School of Medicine.

Thanks to our faculty and staff, their confidence in us—and the confidence displayed by all of our donors—is well placed: we have made progress. However, our task moving forward is not only to sustain this momentum, but to build on it amidst a rapidly changing landscape in higher education.

According to a study by the Pew Research Center released in July, 60 percent of respondents predict that higher education will be vastly different by 2020, with more individualized learning, personally customized graduation requirements, and far greater numbers of "hybrid" classes that combine online learning with fewer visits to classrooms.

At Case Western Reserve, we must see these changes as opportunities. Technology will allow us to engage students in new and meaningful ways on a global scale. International partnerships will foster new research collaborations and academic programming. Experiential learning will take our students—even first-year undergraduates—into the community and into our labs. And we see partnerships with corporations and other organizations that will connect our students sooner—and in more thoughtful ways—with potential employers.

We also see an increasingly diverse campus that embraces cultural and ideological differences and provokes thoughtful discussion. It is in this spirit that we are embarking on a new strategic planning process that will pick up where our current plan ends, taking us from 2013 through 2017 and beyond. The provost is leading this charge, and many of you will be asked to share your insights and time through committees and working groups over the coming months.

Strategic planning is hard work—but I think it is rewarding. While our new strategic plan will build on past successes, it will also be based on a thorough examination of educational trends, the expectations and desires of students, faculty and staff, and the changing research landscape. We are not merely updating our current plan; we are rethinking it and, indeed, reshaping Case Western Reserve. You will help set our course. In preparation for this undertaking, I ask you today to reflect on where you want our university to be—and where we need to be—in 5 years and in 14 years, on our 200th birthday.

How fortunate we are to be working at Case Western Reserve at a time of profound change and opportunity. Our decisions now will impact our campus for decades to come. It is a tremendous responsibility. Thank you for all that you have done to get us to this point, and for all you will do to prepare us for the future.

At Case Western Reserve, we Think Beyond the Possible. I am asking you all to do that today, and I look forward to the new reality we will shape together.