State of the University 2011

Mark W. Huddleston
President, University of New Hampshire
Sept. 15, 2011
Granite State Room, Memorial Union Building

Watch the speech.

Good afternoon and welcome to everyone here in Durham, and to all of you who are watching online.

It’s great seeing how alive and busy our campuses are, and to sense the incredible energy and optimism at the start of our fall term. Truly, there is no better place to be inspired, to learn, to teach, and to thrive than on our beautiful and vibrant campuses in the fall.

It’s also a season that reminds me of an old saying: Autumn leaves are a lot like raising kids. First they turn on you. Then they fly away. And the next thing you know, you look out the window and they're back!

It is hard to believe how quickly things change here at UNH, too.

You’ll remember that Hurricane Irene was barreling up the East Coast just two weeks ago. And UNH was forced to hunker down. We could only hope that everyone would be safe, that the lights would stay on, and that our campuses would survive one of the most damaging storms to hit New Hampshire in a hundred years. We moved move-in day. And we postponed the first day of classes.

Looking out from my home on Main Street, it was amazing—even a little un-nerving—to watch the wind bend the old trees that have withstood so many storms here. It was a stark reminder of the truly awesome and unpredictable power of nature. 

So, having lived through Irene, you should take solace in knowing that the report I’m about to give won’t be nearly as long or as windy or certainly as dire.

Instead, I offer this report as a calm after the storm—and as a hopeful forecast, too.

To carry that metaphor even further, UNH weathered an historic storm of a different nature last spring: I call it Hurricane Concord.

While we had expected a tropical depression with some damaging winds from the state budget process, our Legislature delivered an unprecedented blow to UNH—slashing state support by nearly 50 percent. New Hampshire was already last in the nation in per capita support for higher education before the budget was passed. And this cut was the steepest in the history of higher education in America, ever.  A dubious distinction, indeed.

Even compared to the rest of the state budget, ours was a deeply disproportionate cut. And despite the tireless efforts of the University community and our friends and supporters, no one predicted—no one COULD have predicted—that our budget would be cut by $32.5 million. At times, it felt like the Legislature was determined to transform us from a state-supported University to one that is simply state-located.

Let there be no mistake: This crisis challenged all of us to the core. And there is hardly an office on campus that hasn’t felt the impact.

Faculty—and especially staff—experienced the brunt of the funding cut. A freeze was put on salaries and hiring. Benefits were scaled back. And we were forced to reduce the size of the University. Of the approximately 150 positions we must eliminate to meet our budget targets, the majority are expected to come through attrition, the separation incentive, and the hiring freeze. And of the expected job reductions, we anticipate that fewer than ten percent will come through layoffs. We deeply regret having to take any of these actions, and understand the baleful impacts of the state budget reduction on your departments, on you, and on your families.

But without your cooperation and support, the toll would be even higher. 

Your dedication, patience, and understanding throughout this time of trial have been truly remarkable. Your efforts allowed UNH to remain true to its mission to serve students and their families. Always, you kept them at the forefront of your daily concerns and made them the focus of your best efforts. You helped us avoid what could have been a catastrophic tuition increase. Had we been forced to ask New Hampshire students and their families to make up for the entire lost state appropriation—which is, after all, a subsidy for New Hampshire residents—instead of a $650 supplemental increase in tuition, they would have faced an increase of $4,650. That would have been devastating for working families, and it would have gone against our pledge to keep UNH affordable and accessible.

And when we asked for your help in forming our short- and long-term responses to the budget crisis, hundreds of you offered suggestions. You took time out of the busy spring semester to serve on various budget-focused committees, where you brainstormed steps forward and showed the trademark UNH sense of pragmatic ingenuity and concern for the common good. And you did all this while upholding our commitment to excellence in education, scholarship, and research. 

I know it wasn’t easy. And I also know that meeting these challenges put you under more pressure.

Yet when the Legislature finally did go home in June, the University community was still here, standing strong and resolute, like the storm-tested timber of our Granite State. For this and so much more, I am deeply grateful to you, and I am proud to be among you.

In light of the changes that have been made, the pressures that you have felt, and the dedication you have shown, you should know that we remain committed to providing fair compensation for all faculty and staff. Even in times like these, we must also be able to compete with our peer institutions in a highly competitive market.

So, in good faith, we remain in negotiations with the faculty union.

And recently, the University System Board of Trustees authorized us to explore ways that we might provide non-unionized staff with a modest increase in total compensation—if we can identify the funding in this challenging fiscal environment. Details of this change will be coming in a direct communication email from me later today. It recognizes that you have been asked to meet remarkably high program and service standards. 

I wish I could report that our budget worries are behind us today. But the truth is that while we are making good strides toward a more sustainable future, we are not entirely out of the storm-tested woods—and we must remain focused on securing our financial foundation.

Today, I can tell you that UNH is moving forward. And we are determined to do more than merely survive. We are determined to thrive. And we will grow stronger.

So, let me tell about a few ways we are growing out of this crisis. Here are my top 16 reasons for confidence that UNH is becoming more dynamic, innovative, and sustainable.

  • One: Admissions—With 13,200 undergraduate students and more than 2,500 graduate students at our Durham, Manchester, and Concord campuses, enrollments continue to reflect the overall strength of the University.
  • Two: We remained the university of choice for more than 3,000 first year students who recently joined us. And it’s no coincidence that UNH consistently earns high rankings for its student retention and graduation rates.
  • Three: January term enrollments grew from 448 the first year to 639 in year two.  I expect enrollment to expand even further this January.
  • Four: Our e-learning online classes are also growing in number, variety and enrollment, with more than 2,100 students studying 88 courses in the past year. After studying the University’s online learning environment, we clearly see that UNH needs to do more in this area. And soon, we will be announcing plans to create a dedicated unit for e-UNH.
  • Five: We broke ground on the new Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics, using a lot of dynamite, by the way, as I can personally attest.  But that’s OK:  This wonderful new facility will allow us to invite more students to attend UNH and to access new research tools, connect with alumni mentors, and work side-by-side with business leaders to create economic activity.
  • Six: We now have 54 international students from eight countries enrolled at UNH through a partnership with the firm, Navitas. It provides opportunities for these students to increase their fluency in English while they complete the first year of a baccalaureate degree program. Among its many benefits, this effort is helping to generate new revenues for us.
  • Seven: We are engaging the life of the University with the larger community, both locally and internationally.  For instance, the Confucius Institute, our new partnership with Chengdu University in China, now offers our students a full curriculum in Chinese language and culture. About 120 students are enrolled in the institute’s classes this semester in Durham, and 30 are enrolled in Manchester. The institute also provides opportunities for cultural learning and exchange for regional schools—primary through post-secondary. At a time when China is the third largest trading partner for New Hampshire, the institute provides opportunities not only for students but also for businesses in the state.
  • Eight: To extend our global reach even further, UNH representatives will be joining U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen this month as she leads a delegation of New Hampshire enterprises to India, where we will seek to develop new international partnerships.
  • Nine: The New Ventures Fund that UNH launched last year with $1 million is now awarding grants that promote interdisciplinary and collaborative research, teaching, and engagement activities throughout the University. One of its first grants supported the creation of the Center for Excellence in Geosciences Education, based at the Joan and James Leitzel Center.
  • Ten: In May, the first class to earn degrees from the new UNH School of Law graduated. And this fall, the Law School is teaming up with the Whittemore School to offer a dual JD and MBA degree program. This will be the first of several dual degree programs as a result of the 2010 affiliation agreement through which the Franklin Pierce Law Center became the UNH School of Law.
  • Eleven: UNH also continues to secure more federal research grants per capita for full-time faculty than any other land-grant university in New England.  And the aggregate dollar figures for research funding continue to climb.
  • Twelve: In the coming year, UNH Cooperative Extension will work with other units on campus to launch initiatives to grow and sustain a vital economy in the Granite State, by supporting community development, entrepreneurship, and emerging growth sectors, such as local foods.
  • Thirteen: One of the hallmarks of a UNH education is the opportunity for students to work side-by-side with world-class faculty on cutting edge research projects.  We showcase some of that research in the Undergraduate and Graduate Research Conferences—and this year, once again, the URC set a record for participation, with 1,100 students involved, making it the largest undergraduate conference of its kind in the nation.
  • Fourteen: Our University also partners with dozens of businesses, large and small.  Through research, consulting, joint-ventures and, of course, serving as the state’s principal provider of an educated workforce, UNH is a critical part of the New Hampshire Advantage.  We are also helping to build new businesses and create new jobs by nurturing entrepreneurs through efforts such as the Green Launching Pad and the New Hampshire Innovation Commercialization Center.
  • Fifteen: We have revitalized our Office for Research Partnerships and Commercialization and rededicated ourselves to bringing UNH-produced intellectual property to market.   In part, this is about new and more robust revenue streams for the University.  It is also about providing new opportunities for our students and faculty.  Just two weeks ago, for example, the office announced plans to work with Enterasys Networks to bring state-of-the-art technology to the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, provide students with paid internships and enhanced technical education and training, and expand existing relationships with the UNH InterOperability Laboratory.
  • Finally, number sixteen: Among our many areas of national and international distinction, UNH faculty continue to be leaders in promoting scholarship and research in science, technology, engineering, and math (or, STEM). It’s exciting to see these efforts come to fruition through programs such as the Judd Gregg Marine Research Complex, the Flow Physics Facility, and the New Hampshire Space Grant Consortium, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. And we are supporting the advancement and leadership of women faculty in the STEM disciplines, thanks in part to the ADVANCE grant awarded to UNH by the National Science Foundation.

I did promise that this report would not be long and windy, so that is just my short, “Sweet Sixteen” list of our recent accomplishments.

And not only are we innovating as educators and collaborators, we are, as I suggested, developing new funding sources that will make us more sustainable.

So, I am especially delighted to offer you even more good news on that front:
On July 1, the University entered the planning phase for a comprehensive University-wide fundraising campaign. While we haven’t yet set a firm goal, I can assure you that this effort will be groundbreaking in its reach, momentum, and spirit. It will set a new standard for how we draw on our potential to serve and to engage the people of New Hampshire, the nation, and the world.

Here’s one example of the ambition and potential of our new advancement efforts: Even as the state budget crisis was in full force last spring, UNH Advancement stepped up and launched a new effort called the Match UP program. This initiative raised critical scholarship support by inspiring some 30 donors, many of whom had never given to UNH, to contribute a total of nearly $1 million in just two months. That is a remarkable achievement, especially in this economy.

It comes as no surprise that our students are stepping up as well, volunteering for service projects such as the Relay for Life, which, for the second year in a row, earned a National Top Five Per Capita Youth Award from the American Cancer Society. And just a few weeks ago, students organized the Trash to Treasure yard sale, which diverted 57,000 pounds of trash from landfills. I suppose we could have directed all that trash to the landfill in Rochester and turned it into methane to power our EcoLine plant—but reuse, as our sustainability folks remind us, is always better than even that sort of recycling. 

Thanks to such efforts by students, staff, and faculty, our Durham campus was recently named one of just 22 campuses in North America that received a gold rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s STARS program. This rating reflects the breadth and depth of UNH’s commitment to being a sustainable learning community.

As we experienced at University Day on Tuesday, you can find UNH students giving their time, talent, and hard work in countless ways throughout the year at public schools, health clinics, community centers, food pantries, and in service to our nation.

As you can see, even in stormy times, UNH demonstrates an incredible ability--and agility--to forge ahead.

Soon, you will be hearing about a campus-wide forum on budget and planning issues. My hope is that this public forum will engage the entire community in a conversation about university priorities as we move forward. And I hope that all of you will join in that discussion.

Today, when we take a moment to step back in this busy season, we can look at our accomplishments, our innovations, our sacrifices, and our efforts of the past year and take heart in recognizing that we are all in this together.

Diverse as we are, we stand united as a community working for a greater good. We are advancing our strategic initiatives. And we will celebrate our successes, large and small.

UNH is emerging from a storm—weathered perhaps, but unbroken. In fact, we are emerging wiser, stronger, and more hopeful. We realize that our aspirations are intertwined, and that success requires us to work together and to reach out to one other as never before. Our future is in our hands.

As we conclude, I invite you to take a few minutes now to join with your colleagues and with me for light refreshments, and to continue our conversation as we celebrate our community in 2011 and look ahead to 2012.

But before we do, let me thank you again for coming here today, for being part of this vibrant and resilient University community, and for inspiring me as we move forward.