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Quarterly Letter to the Community

  • Date: 05/19/2009
  • Author: Dr. Luis M. Proenza (President, The University of Akron)
  • I am pleased, Dear Friend . . .

    . . . that so many of you increasingly recognize the great progress that The University of Akron has made during the past 10 years. Indeed, by focusing on student success as our number one priority, we have remained true to the vital role we play as educators, and the results have made our University the preferred public university in Northeast Ohio, and our students some of the most effective competitors in the region and some of the most sought after by employers.

    Since we began this journey, our University has been guided by a strategic plan titled Charting the Course (http://www.uakron.edu/president/chart/index.html), through which we have achieved much:

    • Annual fund raising grew from a high of $15 million to $41 million.
    • Our $500 million comprehensive campaign already has exceeded its ambitious $500 million goal and garnered $606.5 million in gifts and pledges, including a $218 million gift of sophisticated engineering software from the Siemens Corporation. 
    • Annual sponsored-research funding increased from $20 million to $34 million.
    • Our yearly revenues rose from $270 million to $435 million.
    • Our University of Akron Research Foundation increased licensing revenue from $270,000 in 2001 to $6.3 million last year, and spawned the creation of 28 start-up companies.
    • In only three years, our student enrollment grew by 15 percent to nearly 26,000.
    • We have assumed a leadership role among area universities through our best-in-class efforts in technology transfer, shared services, employee benefits and convening of higher-education leaders to compare and learn from each other's best practices.
    • Our campus has become one of the most attractive metropolitan campuses in the nation! Our New Landscape for Learning has added 15 new buildings, made major additions and renovations to 17 other facilities, added 34 acres of new green space, planted over 30,000 trees and bushes and created dozens of walkways, plazas, gardens and other amenities to our campus.

    And, for one of the most significant gains for the University, we are most grateful to Governor Ted Strickland, Chancellor Eric Fingerhut and state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who increased the state's investment in higher education for the present biennium and sustained the majority of those funds in the face of a $1.9 billion drop in Ohio's budget for this fiscal year alone. Our state leaders increasingly recognize that The University of Akron and its sister public research universities play a critical role in supporting Ohio's economy. That is because research universities like The University of Akron prepare the knowledge workers of the future while also creating new knowledge and generating economic value through research and technology transfer. What is more, metropolitan-sited universities such as Akron play a special role by generating innovations that benefit industry, attracting highly skilled talent to key locations, and serving as anchors for creative and collaborative urban revitalization and regional economic development.

    In short, the character and excellence of our University and its successes over the past 10 years have placed The University of Akron in a somewhat better position than other institutions during this economic downturn. Yet, as I recently communicated to our faculty and staff, our circumstances reflect Charles Dickens' opening words from A Tale of Two Cities,  "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."

    It is the best of times for The University of Akron because our investments and achievements during the past ten years have translated into solid enrollment increases and research strengths that position us better in this difficult economy. It is the best of times for The University of Akron because we have a solid academic core, outstanding student success, a very inviting New Landscape for Learning and promising joint efforts to achieve operational excellence. It is the best of times for The University of Akron because we currently do not anticipate having to take any of the severe actions such as the layoffs, furloughs, salary cuts or similar actions that other institutions have implemented.

    Still, along with the rest of our nation, we are experiencing some of the worst of times. The widespread fiscal turmoil will not leave us unscathed, and we must do whatever we can to ensure the continued success of our students and our university.

    I further noted in my message to our employees that, as the University now looks to ensuring its future contributions to its sponsoring society, I think we must accept the fact that the global economy will continue to evolve in ways that will have a profound impact on everything we do and dramatically alter the environment in which public higher education operates. In this context, Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee said in a recent speech to the annual meeting of the American Council on Education, "At this defining moment-when our communities and our nation need us more than ever-we must fundamentally reinvent our institutions. We must become more agile, more responsive, less insular and less bureaucratic. In so doing, we will save ourselves from slouching into irrelevance."

    Well, that is exactly where The University of Akron has been heading these last 10 years! Accordingly, I now see the opportunity for all of us to consider how we might adjust our practices and our organization further so that The University of Akron can continue on its promising path. Indeed, I believe it is obvious that doing business as usual will not enable us to enjoy the gains we have made.

    To that end, I was delighted to note that many of the initiatives we identified in our Charting the Course plan 10 years ago now have become part of Chancellor Fingerhut's strategic plan for Ohio's system of higher education. Thus, we already were well positioned two years ago when we began a process specifically aimed at aligning all of our other existing goals and objectives with those of the University System of Ohio. This year, we have begun a strategic thinking process that is broadly collaborative and absolutely essential as we create a revised, formal 10-year strategic plan. The process-which I have asked that we complete by the end of 2009-will involve our faculty, staff and students as well as alumni, corporate partners and our major donors. We expect to be contacting many of you, and I hope that you will review our planning materials online at http://www.uakron.edu/strategic-plan/ and participate in shaping our future.

    Going forward, we will continue enhancing the University's effectiveness through thoughtful stewardship and bold, carefully calculated risk-taking designed to generate significant benefits. We will embrace the challenges and opportunities that change brings, we will invent the future that Ohio's citizens deserve and, above all, we will provide our students with a top-quality educational experience at a reasonable cost!

    In these endeavors, we are committed, confident and eager to serve.

    With every good wish,

    Sincerely,

     

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