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2007 State of the University Address

President David Ashley Convocation Speech

September 12, 2007

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Good morning, faculty and students. Good morning staff. Good morning, alumni, community leaders, and special guests. Good morning to you all, and welcome to the 2007 academic year at UNLV.

This is a time for us to come together as a campus community and celebrate the start of the school year — and the founding of UNLV. Our 50th anniversary gives us an opportunity to re-establish a tradition in which we assemble to set expectations — and put our ambitions in motion. This is when we come together to ensure that our actions align with our rich history and the core values that define us.

This is also a unique opportunity to welcome new members of our campus community.

One of our greatest accomplishments this year is recruiting leading individuals to join UNLV as we embark in a new direction. We have been able to bring together preeminent experts in their fields — individuals who were captivated by our new mission. I would like to recognize a few of these individuals now, along with the cabinet members and deans who are already part of the UNLV family. I ask that each of you please stand as I introduce you. I will begin with my presidential cabinet.

  • Dr. Neal Smatresk, Executive Vice President and Provost, who joins us from the University of Hawaii
  • Dr. William G. Boldt, Vice President of Advancement, formerly of the University of California, Riverside
  • Dr. Christine Clark, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion, who hails from the University of Maryland

In addition to our three new vice presidents, please join me in welcoming the remaining members of the presidential cabinet. I ask that you, too, please stand.

  • Mr. Gerry Bomotti, Senior Vice President for Business and Finance
  • Dr. Juanita Fain, Vice President for Planning
  • Dr. Andy Feinstein, Senior Advisor to the President
  • Mr. Mike Hamrick, Director of Intercollegiate Athletics
  • Mr. Richard Linstrom, Vice President and General Counsel
  • Dr. Rebecca Mills, Vice President for Student Life
  • Dr. Ron Smith, Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate College

Cabinet, please be seated. Now, please join me in welcoming our new deans. Please stand as I introduce you.

  • Dr. Paul Jarley, Dean of the College of Business, who joins us from the University of Kentucky
  • Dr. M. Christopher Brown II, Dean of the College of Education, formerly of the Pennsylvania State University
  • Dr. Karen West, Dean of the School of Dental Medicine, from the University of Kentucky
  • Dr. John Valery White, Dean of the Boyd School of Law, who joins us from Louisiana State University

We also have several deans' positions still in the recruitment stage, but we are fortunate to have outstanding faculty — from within our own ranks — who have agreed to serve as deans in an interim capacity. I ask that you stand as I introduce you.

  • Dr. Chris Hudgins, College of Liberal Arts
  • Dr. Peter Starkweather, the Honors College
  • Dr. Ann McDonough, of the University College

And of course, I would like to recognize our existing deans as well — and ask that you please stand as I call your names.

  • Dr. Carolyn Yucha, Dean of the School of Nursing and Interim Dean of the School of Allied Health Sciences
  • Dr. Eric Sandgren, Dean of the Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering
  • Dr. Jeffrey Koep, Dean of the College of Fine Arts
  • Dr. Stuart Mann, Dean of the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration
  • Ms. Patricia Iannuzzi, Dean of Libraries
  • Dr. Mary Guinan, Dean of the School of Public Health
  • Dr. Ron Yasbin, Dean of the College of Sciences
  • Dr. Martha Watson, Dean of the Greenspun College of Urban Affairs

Please be seated.

As this convocation begins, I would like to welcome all new faculty and staff and have them stand. Please join me in recognizing these individuals with a round of applause.

Everyone, please be seated.

Fifty years ago, about a hundred yards northeast of where I am standing right now, the first classes began on the current UNLV campus at Maude Frazier Hall. When we held our first commencement, our total number of graduates could fit in the front row of this ballroom. Last year, we graduated enough students to fill every seat in this room ten times over.

This is bold growth. But UNLV is — and always shall be — about more than simple growth. Today we emphasize focused growth. Deliberate growth. Like the city we call home, rapid growth does not define usit merely describes us. A larger population — be it citizens or students — is merely evidence of something greater at work.

This something greater is the consistent, unwavering belief that we can make things better. From our city's humble beginnings as a railroad town, our citizens believed they could make things better. And from UNLV's modest beginnings, our students, faculty, staff, and administrators believed they could make things better. In both the city and here at the university, that belief holds strong today.

It is a can-do culture that is particularly American — and specifically Las Vegan. We welcome a new challenge. We relish the opportunity to begin something great.

In an 1844 speech, Ralph Waldo Emerson called America "a country of beginnings." Surely Las Vegas is the most American of cities in this respect — a place where people come to start anew. A young city. A city that, like America, has progressed so far in so little time. As a university, we inherit this characteristic from the city we call home. We are a university of beginnings.

Just as we began 50 years ago, so we begin our next great era — this year — at this moment. A half-century mark is a fine time to look back. But it is a better time to look forward. So we mark this opportunity with this convocation. This is our time to continue this noble tradition. But even more, this is our time to make a greater university.

Now is the time to claim our rightful place in UNLV's history. Collectively and individually, we will all make our mark as we pass through these halls. Let us speak for a moment about how we can make that mark — something that is worthy of those who came before us — and sets a higher standard for those who follow.

Today, I want to tell you, in concrete terms, how we will accomplish this.

I have a plan to make our vision of greatness a place of greatness. It is a plan of action, so let us talk about the actions we will take this year.

I have spoken before about the importance of core values. These core values are the engine that drives every action. First and foremost among these values is equity. This value typifies the very essence of a university — to be universal is to be inclusive. To be inclusive is to embrace diversity and assure fairness. And to do this is to create a rich academic environment that encompasses a world of opinions.

That is why we have created a new office at UNLV — the Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion. First to hold this office is Dr. Christine Clark, whom you met at the beginning of this address.

The unprecedented focus of this new office is a history-making development at the university. This is our time to infuse our campus with a broader understanding of other cultures and viewpoints. This is a philosophy that I am committed to both personally and as President — it is a philosophy that we will adhere to university-wide. I will hold every dean, every supervisor, and every search committee accountable for producing a diverse pool of applicants for open positions at UNLV. If this principal is violated, the search will be stopped. It is only from the most diverse candidate pool that the best qualified can be selected. As a result, our campus will be richer.

Another demonstration of our commitment to diversity takes shape in The Institutional Development Grant, part of the President's Research Awards. Last year we requested submissions for this grant that focused on diversity and inclusion. The proposals were so strong, so timely, that we will add an additional $150,000 to this program this year and fund the initiatives proposed at a full $300,000.

Diversity is also an important element of our student body. After studying the impacts on all student populations, we will be re-evaluating our processes to ensure that all those with the ability to succeed at UNLV will have that opportunity. Ultimately, success is up to the individual. But it is our job to give every person capable the chance to achieve.

This means taking a hard look at our predictors for success to determine if they should be broadened. Rest assured, our new standards will be stringent — but we will ensure our process is as fair as it is selective. Admissions is not a process of gatekeeping. It is a process of selecting bright, ambitious students with thoughtfully designed criteria. Our student body will always reflect a higher standard of excellence. Essential to protecting this standard is the inclusion of a diverse student body — enriched by individuals from so many different backgrounds — with so many different life experiences.

Diversity is a key to equity. But it is also important to another core value — ecology. Diverse systems succeed. Sustainable systems succeed. This notion of ecology — one that is both cultural and physical — will allow us to flourish.

A university in a desert ecology should be at the forefront of sustainability. Our extreme climate means we should take a critical look at how we are using our resources. You can see practical examples across campus, such as turf reduction and our commitment to progressive green building standards.

A prime example is the new Greenspun Hall. Our goal is to build a facility eligible for LEED Gold Certification. This certification is based on a point system, with credits given for sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality. In recent times, Las Vegas has become more dedicated to green building in the public and private sectors. As a university, sustainable building enables us to become more than an example. It helps us become a resource for others in both education and research.

We will move aggressively to establish both a sustainability policy for the campus and a sustainability task force to advise me and others on how we can do more. The task force will certainly include those whose advice sounds more like activism. This is appropriate. After all, we should — as a university — test and push boundaries. This is critical as we assume leadership for important values within our community.

Ecology links directly to another core value — economy. Economy is a value that is best expressed in action — actions that are part of a renewed focus of resources at UNLV.

A wealth of new discoveries awaits the university that can properly focus its planning, academic, and research efforts. As shapers of minds and pioneers of innovation, we spend much of our time in the abstract. But we must acknowledge the concrete realities of cost versus revenue.

Treating our time, energy, and resources with economy is a form of self-respect. At this critical juncture in UNLV's history — this moment when we can all make our mark — we must do ourselves the honor of planning properly to maximize economy. It is more than efficiency. It is about precision.

On Sept. 25, Executive Vice President and Provost Neal Smatresk will initiate our planning process in full. Our first engagement will be a comprehensive budget planning process. This is a process unlike any the university has ever seen. Cooperative. Collaborative. And completely new in its full transparency. You will see clearly how monies are allocated — especially discretionary and indirect cost revenues.

If you are in this room right now — or if you ever have a reason to visit campus — you are encouraged to be part of this process.

It begins by asking the right questions. Those questions will be posed and considered in a series of town hall meetings throughout the fall. These town hall meetings will feature panel discussions by university stakeholders representing a cross-section of our community. I want to take this opportunity to formally invite all of you to attend these meetings. This is our time to realize the full potential of our individual voices.

In essence, the success of these town hall meetings depends on you. It is only through an exchange of ideas that we can arrive at the best plan of action.

At the conclusion of this series of town hall meetings, all information will be coalesced into a unified document. This document will serve as the blueprint for resource allocation for the coming years. During my inaugural address, I assured you that our priorities would stay funded. I stand by that today. And now, it is your opportunity to help chart the course for what those priorities should be.

We are making organizational changes that will have an impact on everyone at the university. With an emphasis on focus over fragmentation, we have merged all offices that deal with external audiences into a single administrative unit led by the Vice President of Advancement, Bill Boldt.

The American novelist Willa Cather once wrote, "The higher processes are all processes of simplification." The focused, streamlined nature of our new advancement model is representative of this thought — promoting our culture of unification. This is our time to band together with economy — for the greater good of our university.

Planning for economy is planning for our foremost core value — excellence. We are taking actions this year as part of this pursuit. Let us talk about those actions now.

Principal among them is the continuation of the President's Research Awards — at an even greater level than before. In an effort to continue advancing research, scholarship, and creative activities, I will allocate $2 million to these initiatives in the coming year. This funding will come in the form of a series of programs designed to enhance our research and scholarly efforts. These programs include:

  • The President's Research Award, designed to support collaborative teams in their pursuit of competitive grant funding, totaling $400,000 dollars with a cap of $50,000 per proposal.
  • The Research Development Award, supporting individuals pursuing a variety of scholarly and creative activities, with a total allocation of $100,000.
  • The Research Infrastructure Awards Program, a one-time allotment of $1 million for college/school-level research infrastructure.
  • The University Faculty Travel Committee, which will receive a $100,000 allocation to support faculty as they travel to conferences to conduct research or pursue creative activities. This program will be augmented with an additional $100,000 for graduate students' research and scholarship.

Supporting our faculty and staff is, without question, a priority of this administration. As such, this year we will be following the recommendation of the Faculty Senate to create an Ombuds Office. This office will fall under the purview of Dr. Chris Clark — and administratively report to the Vice President — but will be established in such a way as to ensure full confidentiality for those who use its services.

In the interest of shared governance, we will also be creating an Executive Policy Committee. Its purpose will be to examine and recommend actions on policies that move upward or downward through the university. This committee will review — for final approval of the President — all policies at UNLV — and its members will include a broad spectrum of faculty, staff, and administrators.

We are also forging stronger relationships with business and industry with the UNLV Harry Reid Research and Technology Park. This facility will comprise millions of square feet of research and development space on 114 acres — and it will provide valuable opportunities to collaborate with businesses that require leading edge research facilities.

In speaking of partnerships, I am honored to mention a generous gift by one of our most valued community partners. Just two days ago, the Harrah's Foundation pledged $30 million dollars for funding of the academic building and important research at INNovation Village — our new home for the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration. This revolutionary facility provides research and education at the forefront of the hospitality industry — and the unprecedented gift by the Harrah's Foundation will help further this important work.

This $30 million dollar pledge is part of UNLV's Invent the Future Campaign, the most ambitious fundraising initiative in our history. The campaign draws to a close next year, and every gift we receive brings us closer to our fundraising goals. I urge each and every one of you to embrace your role as an ambassador for this university — and the critical part you play in making the Invent the Future Campaign a success.

It is fitting that this gift comes during a year of celebration. This year, we all have a unique opportunity to take part in a series of 50th Anniversary events.

This convocation is part of these celebrations — and we can all look forward to a full year of exciting activities, including:

  • University Days, in full swing right now
  • A concert by the Tony Award-winning Brian Stokes Mitchell
  • A special Homecoming Week of performances, banquets, parades, and, of course, Rebel football
  • A memorabilia exhibit at the Barrick Museum
  • A concert conducted by the legendary Itzhak Perlman
  • A performance by film and theater star Hal Holbrook
  • Music and satire by The Capitol Steps
  • A special outdoor picnic and pops performance by Broadway and recording star Linda Eder and the Las Vegas Philharmonic.

It is a year of celebration — and throughout our revelries, let us also remember that it is a year of actions, including:

  • Our newly-focused Office of Diversity and Inclusion
  • A commitment to a sustainable university through its buildings and its processes
  • A focus of resource allocation with transparent planning
  • The unification of key administrative offices under the new advancement model
  • Extensive funding for research through the President's Research Awards
  • Creation of a new Ombuds Office
  • The new Executive Policy Committee for shared governance
  • The UNLV Harry Reid Research and Technology Park
  • Ever-greater momentum for the Invent the Future Campaign

This is our time to advance toward the next great era of UNLV. Our faculty, staff, and students are making those advancements right now as they pursue notable endeavors of research and creativity.

Our scientists and researchers are winning prestigious competitive grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of the Interior.

And the scientific community is taking note. Just last month, the National Science Foundation published a study on American universities and their publication in peer-reviewed literature. UNLV ranked among the top five universities in the nation for the greatest increase in publication of research findings.

This year UNLV made the pages of The Atlantic Monthly — one of the nation's premier publishers of new fiction — which ranked our graduate writing program among the nation's top five most innovative.

We are no strangers to excellence in the world of sport, either. And we have stayed true to form with conference titles in basketball, baseball, golf, soccer, softball, swimming, tennis, and track and field — not to mention the Running Rebels' advancement to the NCAA Sweet 16.

My friends, I conclude by noting that we are poised to achieve goals that 50 years ago our founders had not yet even dreamed. To the faculty and staff — I invite you to join me in a planning process that will help chart a course for excellence. To our students — I challenge you to own this year as your chance to make a positive impact on your university — and yourselves. And to us all — I urge us to remember our place in UNLV's history — and to honor that place throughout our 50th Anniversary year.

Nelson Mandela famously said, "After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come… I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended."

My fellow members of the UNLV community, we now find ourselves at a glorious vista. But this is our time to climb greater hills. This is our time to achieve further heights. This is our time to pursue those noble destinations together.

This convocation marks the beginning of the 2007 academic year. There is great work to be done. Now, let us begin.

Thank you.