UNLV History

Inaugural Speech – President David Ashley

April 27, 2007

This is a proud day for me. Marking our first 50 years with a presidential inauguration is a unique honor. It is a privilege to be a part of this milestone — and a part of UNLV's future.

At this moment, I stand before you, like all of UNLV's distinguished leaders have, to mark a day of change. Just as Donald Moyer, Roman Zorn and Donald Baepler created and defined UNLV during our founding era, just as Brock Dixon and Pat Goodall stabilized the university during a turbulent time, just as Robert Maxson rallied the entire community behind UNLV, just as Kenny Guinn turned a transitional period into an era of trust and calm, just as Carol Harter led the first calls for UNLV to become a research institution — so shall I work to effect real change.

We will change how we teach, how we research, and how we advance the university. And as we advance, the community will advance along with us. In short, the UNLV you see now is not the UNLV you will see in the next decade or even in the next year.

I have spent more than 10 months talking to people on campus and out in the community. As many of you know, I am an engineer, so it should not surprise you that I have taken an analytical approach during this period. I have collected data. I have gathered information. I have deconstructed and reconstructed the challenges we face and the advantages we can leverage to our collective benefit.

Great universities inherit their defining characteristics from their communities. Las Vegas is a city that is dynamic, enterprising, bold, ambitious, confident, global, and groundbreaking. What some say cannot be done is what we do. Success is non-negotiable.

UNLV shares these characteristics. I have met with faculty, staff, alumni, donors, deans, students, and local business and community leaders. This is a diverse group of people with a wide array of needs, wants, and expectations. But they all have something in common: a genuine desire for UNLV to accomplish great things. Nobody wants half-measures. Everyone expects results.

Success begins with our shared values. Once, we shared the core value of expansion. As we celebrate our 50th anniversary, one has to marvel at what we have achieved. We have kept pace with one of the country's fastest-growing cities. Few universities have been asked to do as much; none have handled it so well.

As we move forward, we must share new core values. First, I am talking about equity. And by equity, I also mean diversity, equality, and fairness. I am talking about inclusion. Most of all, I am talking about a richer academic environment. Our students are entering a global workplace, so we must provide a wealth of worldviews. Equity is imperative. And this is non-negotiable.

Ecology is another core value we will continue to share. Ecology is sustainability in all its dimensions, and this philosophy will distinguish our future campus both physically and culturally. Of course, this includes energy and water. It also includes human ecology. We will seek a campus culture that values and engages all its members, including its neighbors. We will build facilities and assemble our faculty so that we will be a model for sustainability. Our university district will be a destination of choice. Our pursuit of a sustainable and welcoming community will be uncompromising.

We will hold true to another core value: economy. We will be efficient stewards of all of our resources — whether they be environmental, human, political, or financial. Economy is also about wise investment. It was Benjamin Franklin who said, "An investment in knowledge pays the best interest." It is our duty to treat that investment with the ultimate respect. It is our duty to invest with academic advancement as our guiding light. Thus, we will invest with purpose and strike inefficiencies wherever we find them. Our pursuit of economy must be ever vigilant. Investing first in our academic mission is non-negotiable.

Likewise, UNLV will be steadfast in its commitment to excellence as a core value. It will be the driving force behind everything we do, every decision we make. We will be relentless in our pursuit. And this, too, is non-negotiable.

Equity. Ecology. Economy. Excellence — our four E's for a new era. With these core values as the fiber of our shared character, now is the time for UNLV to stop keeping pace and to start defining the pace. We will banish the word "expansion" from our lexicon — that word no longer describes what we do. We must adopt a culture of thoughtful and deliberate investment.

We must all work hard to determine where our resources are best allocated. These choices may have differential impacts; what binds us together is that we make these choices as a community. Let us remember that our purpose is a shared purpose, and that a university is not a place we work, it is a place we serve.

Our shared values are important. They define who we are and what we will become.

I have a vision for the UNLV of the next decade and beyond.

UNLV will become an institution fully committed to research. From energy to sociology to breakthrough work in the areas of biosciences, engineering, literature, and more, we will continue our evolution as a competitive research institution, and as a highly regarded research university, as a national and world leader.

Why? Because research is the precursor to enterprise, and enterprise is the engine that drives an economy. No research, no engine. No matter how strong an economy, diversifying only makes it stronger.

Not only is our economy completely unique, so is our culture, so is our climate, so are the challenges we face. As such, it is vital that we continue to embark on bold research initiatives that serve our unique state. Put simply, there are some areas of research that, if not pursued by us, may not be pursued by anyone.
We will search out and identify areas of research with the greatest potential and allocate the necessary resources to them. We will consider how research enhances the reputation of our institution. We will emphasize how the needs of industry can be met and exceeded.

In the process, the work done in our labs or in the field will enhance the educational experiences of our students. They will work hands-on in the lab, and benefit from more advanced instruction in the classroom. They will work with and learn from those making the discoveries, those creating new knowledge, those inventing new fields.

We will enhance our research support in well-defined areas. Through this focus, we will leverage the early successes into funding for further initiatives. Without it, our current resources will continue to be spread further and further outward. This is not our path. Never will you find thin resources and robust research on the same campus.

Of course, all of this takes infrastructure. After conversations with our current research teams, it is clear that we need new facilities; advanced technology; and hardware, software, and supplies. This is the hard side of infrastructure.

But what is also missing is the soft side. This includes items you cannot order from a catalog or have designed by an architect. The soft side is about support — from processes like purchasing and payroll to the graduate students it takes to fuel research.

Beyond that, it takes a university culture that is willing to compete for top projects. We have to want the funding enough to win it. Competitive funding will be our emphasis — and this is non-negotiable.

With more and more institutions of higher education providing access for our young people, UNLV now has the freedom to focus on recruiting more of the best and brightest students. This includes those who are most ready to be challenged, those who are most curious, and those who are self-starters. We will always support every student's right to pursue higher education, but we cannot forget our obligation to those who flourish under higher standards.

The new UNLV students will arrive on campus with a different set of basic skills. They will encounter an undergraduate experience that we, as faculty, have reformed, reshaped, and redefined. Through this effort, we challenge our young people to be better students, and they challenge us to be a better university. Because, as Albert Einstein said, "It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge."

Indeed, the UNLV of the future has a bold mission. It is not something that will happen immediately. The realities of budget may influence timing, but they will never deter our ambitions. This is our pledge to the community we serve, and this is non-negotiable.

Here are the actions we will take to launch a new era for UNLV.

Starting today, UNLV will change its planning process. This process will now be linked directly to budgeting and will define how we invest our resources. Our planning process will be re-engineered so that dialog moves in both directions: top-down and bottom-up. We will seek universitywide input on issues that have universitywide impact. And all plans will include measurable results. Planning will be done in the interest of action.

We will create a model for true faculty-administration shared governance. We will significantly enhance opportunities for input and joint policymaking. We will value our faculty's primary role in setting high academic standards. We will trust the faculty to define educational excellence. Likewise, the faculty must trust the administration for its fiscal leadership and as a genuine and fair partner in moving the university forward.

UNLV is committed to sustainability. From this moment forward, facilities constructed on campus will be designed and engineered with this ultimate goal in mind. We will be a leader in this movement in Southern Nevada, and a valued resource and model for others who wish to pursue this worthy cause.

Planning in the interest of action. Shared governance. Sustainability. At UNLV, these are all non-negotiable.

We are changing the growth trend at UNLV. Accelerated growth is now deliberate growth. Recent and upcoming changes in admissions will enable us to grow the student population with greater selectivity. With regard to programs and facilities, we will search out and identify those that advance our contributions to the community, those that enhance our prestige as a university, and those that enhance the capabilities of our students. It is in these areas that we will focus our attention and resources. Our priorities will stay funded.

As an institution, we are now fully embracing our role as a research university. We will be funding new lab space and new equipment. We will be improving research support services and investing in the technology our faculty need.

To facilitate this, UNLV will put renewed focus on graduate students. We will implement programs to encourage our most curious and capable undergraduates to pursue graduate studies. We will also aggressively pursue quality graduates from other universities. They will see UNLV for its richness and opportunity.

Funding our priorities. Strengthening research. Enhancing graduate studies. These are non-negotiable.

UNLV is part of a system of higher education. Our ability to work within that system, share resources, and collaborate with our fellow Nevada institutions will strengthen us all. I am particularly looking forward to partnering with the University of Nevada, Reno, and to enriching my relationship with its president, Milton Glick. We have so much to gain by working together.

The faculty will be asked to re-examine and redefine the undergraduate landscape, particularly the core curricula and general education requirements. UNLV students have always been among the most enterprising of our state, and through a more rigorous course of study, we will further challenge, inspire, and engage those with the most potential. As Nelson Mandela said, "Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world." And changing the world is exactly what we prepare our students to do.

Collaboration within the system and a more rigorous course of study. These are non-negotiable.

We will be the school of choice for Nevada's top students. It will be a rich academic learning environment that continually attracts and challenges the best. The new UNLV will be a nexus of research and innovation, a place that industry and enterprise look to as a leader. We will open up new entrepreneurial avenues through our research. We will be the cultural and artistic heart of the city we call home. As we succeed in our ambitions, it will bring even greater honor to the alumni who already hold degrees from our institution.

We will provide an arena for our faculty and staff to make their professional marks. It will be a place of new opportunities for those who work on campus. A place where change is constant and initiatives are rewarded, where individual recognition is just one of the by-products of the university's advancement.

Indeed, this is a future we can all embrace. As we begin our 50th anniversary celebrations with this presidential inauguration, we will remain unwavering in our commitment to honoring the past with bold steps forward. It was Winston Churchill who said, "Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

At this moment, we move beyond the beginning of our first half-century. We shall transform ourselves as a university. In this process, we will transform both the lives of our students and the future of this community.

Together, we will create an extraordinary public university. This is our destiny. And this, above all else, is non-negotiable.