2010 State of the University Address

October 20, 2010

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The State of the University
By Dr. Robert O. Kelley, President
University of North Dakota

September 30, 2010, 3:30 p.m.
Memorial Union Ballroom

Thank you, Vice Chair Stofferahn, and good afternoon to the members of the University Council, and to all the faculty, staff and students of the University of North Dakota.

I look forward to another great year working with the leadership of the University:  in the University Senate, Kathy Smart and Curt Stofferahn; the Staff Senate, Loren Liepold and Kristi Swartz; and the Student Senate, Matt Bakke and Grant Hauschild.

And thank you for the opportunity to visit with all of you this afternoon.

I believe that we are at an important time in the history of the University of North Dakota.  UND is approaching another legislative session in January; we are as large a university as we have ever been in our history; and we are looking forward to making a major announcement next week.   UND has many partners and friends, both within the state and around the world, and we gratefully acknowledge the critical importance of these relationships.  In many ways, this year will be transformative for all of us…legislators, friends, partners… as we work together to move the University of North Dakota from “Great to Exceptional”.


A great deal has changed since UND was established in 1883.  Our society is more global and connected, more immediate, and more focused on performance measures and outcomes than ever before.

But conserving core principles is central to our success, even as we adapt to the changing demands and expectations of our constituents.

UND was founded on the principle that an outstanding liberal arts education is at the core of successful citizenship.  We continue that principle today.  It is the foundation of the core mission of the University…teaching, learning, and service to the State of North Dakota.  UND benefits from an innovative, world class faculty; expert, knowledgeable staff; bright, creative students; and strong commitment to an entrepreneurial spirit …that “can-do spirit”…of our community and state.


All of us are aware of the many challenges facing higher education around the country as a consequence of the continued global economic downturn.  North Dakota has not been impacted as severely as other states and, as a result, the University of North Dakota is not only healthy financially, but is able to effectively position itself to excel in meeting its core mission.

UND will continue to offer an excellent education and university experience, at a great value, for students and their families.  I urge leaders in our state to continue their commitment to higher education…the payoff is real, tangible and can be measured in hard economic terms.

In addition, as we enter the 2010-2011 academic year, UND is experiencing an all time high enrollment – almost 14,200 students.  Overall enrollment in the graduate school is up some 14%, an all time high.  Revenue from research grants and contracts, some $128 million, has also achieved an all time high.  All these numbers translate into an economic impact of more than $1 billion for our city and state.   I want to thank the faculty, staff and students at UND for their hard work in attaining these significant, essential milestones.

I believe that these enrollment numbers are just about right for the physical resources of the institution.  So, I submit to you that the challenge before us, now,  is not so much quantity, but to continue to focus on quality.  Of course, we will need to sustain enrollment numbers.  But, of greater importance for the long term, focus now on enhancing the quality of the academic programs at the university; the quality of research, creative and scholarly opportunities for students and faculty; and an enhanced overall quality of the university experience at UND.  I’ll speak more to this point in just a moment.

Let me develop this “quality” theme a little bit by highlighting some successes and achievements of UND’s faculty and students.

UND is entering the second year of the 2009-2011 fiscal biennium.  As a result of generous legislative support( which helps keep tuition affordable), UND’s record high enrollment, and the success of extramural funding from all sources,  UND is not only able to continue support for critical existing academic  programs, but is also funding important new programs that address the contemporary priorities of our state.  For example, we have established new undergraduate and graduate degree programs in energy engineering and a new Petroleum Research, Education and Entrepreneurship Center.  And we have developed the nation’s only major for learning the science and technology behind remotely piloted vehicles.

I should mention, in the same breath, that UND also recommended termination of some 12 programs to the State Board of Higher Education last year.  Growth of quality is not just about increasing numbers of programs.  Quality is also about getting the most out of available resources.

To this end, working in full partnership with North Dakota State University, a new Masters degree in Public Health is nearing completion.  This innovative program will share institutional resources, both old and new,  and will permit students enrolled in either institution to complete a degree program very much needed in the state.

As an aside, it is a pleasure to welcome President Dean Bresciani to North Dakota.  UND looks forward to continued collaboration with our colleagues at NDSU.

On the interdisciplinary front, UND students may also complete a Ph.D. in educational leadership with an emphasis in entrepreneurship and a Masters degree in Public Administration in social entrepreneurship.

UND’s program in clinical psychology just received the full seven year accreditation from the American Psychological Association.

UND’s Law School has just been placed in the nation’s Top 20 Best Value Law Schools by prelaw magazine.

And, perhaps most useful of all, students can now take Norwegian 101 on-line.
Furthermore, UND students are competing successfully for prestigious national scholarships, and for national championships in both academic and athletic competition.  Did you know that UND’s Flying Team just won their 16th national championship?

And I just learned this morning that UND’s UAS Engineering Laboratory team made history this week in the 2010 Australian International UAV Outback Search and Rescue competition held in Queensland.  UND’s team became the first in the four-year history of the competition to actually locate the prized target, a life-size dummy known as “Outback Joe”.  To achieve their success, they used ground-assessment technologies positioned on UAV platforms that have been developed at UND.

In recognition of the emphasis UND places on student participation in shared governance,  student leadership has been advanced to membership on the President’s Cabinet, with President Matt Bakke and, when unable to attend, Vice President Grant Hauschild bringing the student perspective to the considerations of that group.

And UND’s staff isn’t doing badly, either.  Janice Hoffarth in the Music Department and Kirk Peterson of the Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences just received the Governor’s Award for Public Service to citizens of the State of North Dakota.

Speaking of the President’s Cabinet, a search is nearing completion for the next Vice President for Student Affairs upon the announced retirement of Bob Boyd, who leaves office in December.

I’ve asked Dr. Boyd to continue on with UND for a bit as the Name and Logo Transition Officer.   As you know, UND  is retiring the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo following the directive, last April, of the State Board of Higher Education.  UND has until August 15, 2011, to complete the transition.

As an aside, I hope all of you are enjoying, as much as I am, watching the renovation of the old education building. When finished it will be the proud new home of the UND College of Education and Human Development.  I want to thank the legislature for approving Stimulus Funding for this project; and I also want to thank the faculty and staff for their patience while the construction and renovations are being completed.

And even though we can’t enjoy watching construction in Bismarck on a daily basis, the new clinical facility for the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences Family Medicine Residency is almost at the groundbreaking stage.

I should also mention that at this time of the year, with Homecoming just a week away, the campus is beautiful and buzzing with activity, thanks to the hard work of UND’s dedicated facilities and operations staff.

And mentioning Homecoming prompts me to invite you to join me Friday, October 8, at 3 p.m. at the Chester Fritz Auditorium for an announcement that will “Ignite the Spirit” and help explain how we are going to transform this University “from Great to Exceptional”.

So, in summary, all appears to be quite well at UND.

OVER THE HORIZON: what’s coming?

But what’s developing just over the horizon that will affect UND?

This summer, I’ve attended many legislative committee meetings in Bismarck. As we get a bit closer to the 2011 session, I’ll be bringing to all of you an update of the budget and capital construction requests for the university.

At the moment, though, many individual legislators are asking some fundamental questions, all of which center, in one way or another, on the issue of “return on investment” for UND, and the other NDUS institutions.

These questions are often worded in different ways, but they still have the same message.

Is Higher Education still relevant and necessary for North Dakotans?  Are research universities worth the cost of sustaining them?  Do the research universities really serve an important role as economic engines for the state?  Why should we use taxpayer funds to educate students from out of state?  And when do the continued requests for increased appropriations for higher education end?

So, in a nutshell, what’s the return on investment?

I believe that UND is providing a significant return on investment for North Dakota.  We are helping to enrich a burgeoning economy, and this is happening in several meaningful ways.

UND is preparing an increasingly educated workforce with the skills of critical thought, effective communication, and problem solving that is desired in employees in every industry.  Students engage the essential studies program, then commit to majors and degree programs in the STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), health professions, business and industry, education and law…all needed by North Dakota.

UND is also helping industry find more effective ways of enhancing their productivity…for example, developing  new vaccines; thinking through more effective business plans; creating novel technologies for aviation platforms; and defining  innovative ways of assessing human performance and behavior.  And we’re providing employees of these businesses the opportunity to access courses and degree programs on-line…in partnership with other colleges and universities in the North Dakota University System.

There is no better example of UND’s value proposition to North Dakota than the work UND is doing to help the oil industry find better ways of extracting oil and geothermal energy from the Bakken Formation in the western part of the state; to manage carbon emissions and carbon storage in innovative, creative ways; and to develop novel techniques to use agricultural waste to make biodiesel fuel.  UND provides the educated workforce that delivers health care in rural areas; provides executive leadership for established companies in the state; educates entrepreneurial leadership that is vital to small business start ups;  and contributes to the education of students in K-12.  And I would be remiss if I didn’t say UND continues to help enrich the quality of lives for North Dakota by providing access to the performing arts…including the Theatre Department, celebrating its Centennial this year…and through the  performances of our music faculty and
students, and through programs such as the nationally acclaimed UND Writers Conference.  By the way, if you haven’t seen the exceptional new text, Storytelling Time, by Prof. Art Jones and his colleagues, which catalogs the remarkable collection of Native North American art and other objects on our campus, I encourage you to do so.

As I study the economic reports of Prof. David Flynn, R&D revenues at the university, in 2009, approached $100 million.  As I mentioned a moment ago, these revenues are some $28 million greater in 2010.  But in 2009, adding direct, indirect and induced impacts, UND research and development generated an almost $200 million cumulative economic output impact across the region.  The employment impact included 1,650 jobs, and nearly $20 million in cumulative tax revenues in the region.  I believe that this is a significant, positive return on investment by UND.

And UND’s value to society…?

UND has provided about 45% of the physicians practicing in North Dakota.  Most of the presidents of tribal colleges in North Dakota, and many across the nation, are UND graduates. Significant percentages of the state’s physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech language pathologists, clinical laboratory scientists, physician assistants, social workers, school superintendants and principals, elementary and secondary school teachers, nurses, and almost 1000 engineers and oil and gas experts working the oil play that is so critical to the economic health of the state…are all educated at UND.  According to the latest placement study, 60% of UND graduates who also graduated from a ND high school stayed in ND to contribute to the state’s economy.

I am confident when I say that UND demonstrates a significant return on investment for North Dakota.  I submit that no other industry in the state contributes more to developing and sustaining the efficient, quality  workforce needed to support the state of North Dakota than does UND.

So…please get out there and tell UND’s story…of the faculty, students, staff and graduates of UND who are making a bold, transformative difference for North Dakota.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE…where are we going?

I’d like to conclude my remarks about the state of the university today by reminding everyone of the conversations that were started last semester, and that continued over the summer with the community of Grand Forks… and in which most of us in the university community were engaged.  As you recall, I charged UND’s Provost with leading an effort to take our last strategic plan and sharpen its focus, so that we would have a shared vision of our university’s priorities going forward.

Working closely with Vice President Alice Brekke, Provost Paul LeBel retained consultants from the Stratus Group to facilitate a series of conversations about the future of UND.  I was very pleased at how many of you participated in these conversations and how many of you made productive, thoughtful contributions to the development of a shared vision for UND.

I believe that those conversations have produced broad support for five key elements of a vision that holds the promise of transforming this university… by strengthening relationships both inside and outside the university.

The vision that has emerged from listening to all of you about what is most important to our future can be organized under five broad headings.

I am very excited to share them with you today.

  1. The first is to enrich the student learning experience.

    It is not surprising that this is at the top of the list. This is, when all is said and done, why we exist as an institution of higher education, and the primary way we serve the citizens of North Dakota.

    Under this heading of enriching the learning experience, there are already efforts underway.  One clear example is the Undergraduate Learning Working Group. Led by Ryan Zerr from the Department of Mathematics and Brett Goodwin from the Department of Biology, this faculty-initiated effort is identifying some promising pilot projects to improve the first year experience and to develop an early warning advising system.  We know how critical both of these activities are to the success of our students, to keeping them engaged and intellectually challenged in a supportive environment.

    In addition, UND has created a new position – Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education – to ensure continuity and to underscore UND’s commitment to a successful undergraduate experience.

    Furthermore, the UND that you envision, an exceptional UND , will employ more learning communities;  have more students engaged in research;  place more students into real world experiential learning settings;  provide integrated advising about academic programs, academic success, career counseling, and life issues; and chart clear pathways for students to succeed while they are at UND.

  2. A second set of vision elements revolves around the idea of facilitating collaboration.

    There are obvious strengths across campus that could have an even greater impact if they effectively worked together.  We know that there is already a good deal of collaboration in research, and Vice President Johnson is leading the development of a research strategic plan to identify and support even more ambitious and cutting edge projects.

    Collaboration in research is critical to an exceptional university, but research is not the only area in which collaboration can create greater impact. Teaching can be more engaging to students and rewarding to faculty when instruction cuts across traditional boundaries between disciplines.  Similarly, collaborative service can bring faculty, staff, students, and organizations together in ways that add value to the Greater Grand Forks community and to the surrounding region.  We will search for ways to both incentivize and reward successful collaborative outcomes in teaching and service.

  3. A third priority that you told us was important to making this university truly exceptional was encouraging gathering.

    This priority covers a number of both small and large initiatives that will change the way we interact. For example, we need to make it easier than it is now for people to get together spontaneously. We also need to create places that are more intentional destinations…places that will strengthen our sense of community and help us fulfill the multiple dimensions of our mission. Two of the exciting ideas that were raised in our conversations about the future involve the creation of hubs that are focused on essential attributes of university life.

    One is an intellectual hub, a place where people go to pursue ideas and to gather together with others who may have similar interests. This intellectual commons could evolve around the hub of the Chester Fritz Library, so that even its location symbolizes the centrality of learning to an exceptional university.

    A second hub would be a social gathering place that includes a broad range of activities and spaces suitable for different types of casual getting together.

    By exercising our imagination about how to encourage gathering, we can be distinctive as a campus that offers the advantages of a major research university, yet maintains much of the feel of a small liberal arts college.

  4. A fourth area of priority is improving the quality of life for the people who promote the university’s endeavors, our faculty and staff.

    UND is a community.

    We must implement such initiatives as expanded child care opportunities;  a more deliberate and effective approach to accommodating the needs of dual career partners;  provide mid-career faculty with development opportunities that are comparable to the world class Alice T. Clark Mentoring program for new faculty;  and ensure that all of our staff have the development opportunities to enhance their skills and career progression and satisfaction.

  5. And finally, a fifth vision element involves expanding UND’s “presence”.

    Some of UND’s presence will be physical.  We must continue to look for opportunities downtown and around the periphery of campus to develop meaningful partnerships with our local businesses, professions, community groups, and government agencies.

    Some of this expanded presence will be virtual, as we continue to provide learning at a distance that brings our first rate education to people who can’t come to us.  Some of this expanded presence will be global, as we strengthen our partnerships with such institutions such as the American College of Norway and the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology, and as we continue to develop additional academic partnerships.

    And some of this expanded presence will draw on connections that we already have, in the form of our graduates who live and work around the state, across the nation, and throughout the world.  We can continue to build on our relationships with our alumni, so that they help us with both ends of our student pipeline, recruiting prospective students and employing well-educated graduates.

    And the relationship with our alumni operates in both directions.  They help inform our work in teaching and research, so that we are aware of the changing world in which our students will operate.

    And we help them maintain and sharpen the skill sets that contribute to their success, by making available continuing education and information about the breakthroughs in knowledge and creativity that are occurring as a routine matter at an exceptional university.

So, to conclude my thoughts this afternoon, you and I, working together, can transform UND through focusing our activities into five fairly simple priorities:

enriching learning
facilitating collaboration
encouraging gathering
improving the quality of life for faculty and staff
and expanding UND’s presence.

The time is right.

We are located in a state with a thriving economy and a population that is historically supportive of higher education.

We have students who are eager to be challenged by their education and to become the leaders of tomorrow.

And we have the most desired resource of all… a dedicated faculty and staff who are committed, not only to their personal and professional success, but who devote enormous time, energy, and talent to the students and to the mission of UND .

I challenge all of us to transform this great university.

Help create the UND of which you wish to be a part.

Ignite the Spirit…

Together, we will make our shared vision a reality.


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