President Royce C. Engstrom
May 2, 2011
Governor Schweitzer, Commissioner Stearns, Regent Christian and members of the Board of Regents, members of the Platform Party, faculty, staff, students, administrators, alumni, distinguished guests and friends, good morning! Thank you for joining me today in celebration of this important time in the life of The University of Montana. During the past six months, I have been fortunate to have tremendous encouragement and guidance from so many of you here today and many others who couldn't be here. People frequently ask me, "What is the biggest surprise of being President?" I reply that it is the quite pleasant surprise of overwhelming enthusiasm of nearly everyone associated with our great institutions.
Today is certainly a day of personal celebration for me, but more importantly it is a day of celebration for the University. It is a time to recognize and honor the past accomplishments of those who built our institutions. It is a time to come together as the present-day stewards charged with serving the State of Montana and our nation through education. It is a time to challenge ourselves to build for the next century of The University of Montana.
I want to thank Mary Muse and the Inauguration Planning Committee for their hard work in preparing for today's events. Their planning, including right down to the weather, was simply outstanding.
People do not reach positions such as this by themselves. I had tremendous help and support. Most importantly, I want you to join me in thanking Mary, my wife of 31 years, for her support and her eagerness to take on this new adventure with me. Her encouragement and that of our kids, Tyler and Carey, have kept me energized.
Growing up, I was among the lucky ones. My parents did not attend college themselves, but they understood the importance of nurturing the ideas of their kids. Trips to the city library and books read aloud by my mom were critical to my development. Countless "projects" with my dad included building a very tippy boat and an air-car that never got off the ground. I only wish that everyone could have such supportive parents.
I have been mentored by some wonderful people, many of whom are here today. From my South Dakota days, Jim Abbott, from whom you heard a few minutes ago, regularly challenged my own assumptions about higher education. He has been a great President for The University of South Dakota and I appreciate him and Colette being here. Tad Perry, former Executive Director for the South Dakota Board of Regents and now a member of the South Dakota Legislature, and his wife, Carolyn, also made the trip. I worked for Tad as a Regents' Fellow, and whatever understanding I have of public policy and political strategy I owe in large measure to him. Here in Montana, I have valued the opportunity to work alongside George Dennison for three years. During his 20 years as President, he built a great university, leaving us in a position of strength and respect as an institution. George sets the standard for hard work, ambitious goal-setting, and the ability to get things done. I am proud to call him my friend and wish him well in his work for the Colorado State University system this year.
I have the good fortune to work with a compassionate and persistent Commissioner, Sheila Stearns, whose counsel I have appreciated in these early months, and a Board of Regents, chaired by Clay Christian, which is a strong and engaged advocate for higher education. I am grateful to have a friend and energetic colleague in President Cruzado. I am further appreciative of the team with whom I work on a daily basis and whom I have come to know as an outstanding group of individuals. Indeed, the interactions with people associated with the University are what make this job so fascinating.
The University of Montana today is an affiliation of four institutions, each with a distinctive character and a distinctive role in Montana higher education.
The University of Montana Western was formed in 1893 as the State Normal School in Dillon. It is a school characterized by the boldness to become the only public university in America to do "block-scheduling." Through Experience One, Western has reinvented itself as an institution on the forefront of educational philosophy. Chancellor Storey and his colleagues can and do take pride in the intensely personal approach to mentoring students.
Montana Tech of The University of Montana is among the most highly focused institutions in the country and has earned a national reputation in science and engineering. The future of our state and our nation will depend increasingly on the innovation and problem-solving skills of scientists and engineers, and Montana Tech plays a leadership role. Montana Tech is undergoing its own transition, as Chancellor Frank Gilmore approaches retirement after his years of distinguished leadership.
The University of Montana-Helena is a College of Technology that combines academic theory with hands-on skill development, creating a workforce that fuels Montana's productivity. The campus takes pride in bringing in students as they are and giving them an education that sets them up for a lifetime of contribution. Under Dean Daniel Bingham's leadership, the College has undergone extensive facility improvements and programmatic enhancements as it adjusts to meeting Montana's educational needs.
And, of course, The University of Montana in Missoula is among the nation's great public research universities, offering education at all degree levels and in fields of study within the remarkable traditions of the liberal arts and in nationally recognized professional programs. Faculty members and students expand our knowledge base though cutting-edge research and they enrich our lives through cultural and creative expression. Vigorous spirit of discourse and fierce devotion to shared governance make it a special place. And, of course, I cannot resist the opportunity to remind both President Cruzado and Governor Schweitzer of the powerhouse of Grizzly Athletics. Go Griz!
The theme of today's celebration is "Building a University for the Global Century." I will talk about this theme in three sections. First, I will propose a few characteristics that I feel define the Global Century. Next, I want to describe some public policy issues before us in higher education. Finally, I want to outline the Strategic Issues around which the Missoula campus has constructed its new strategic plan.
What are some distinguishing characteristics of the Global Century that will affect education?
One characteristic is that we have an astounding ability to see the connectedness of events in real time. A striking example of this comes from a recent talk given by one of our young faculty members in Geosciences, Rebecca Bendick. She spoke about the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan. She had a fascinating video clip showing the response of an array of sensors located down the middle of our country. You could watch the seismic wave first sweep through from west to east, and then moments later, the wave coming from the other direction around the world from east to west. The motion of our continent oscillated over time in response to aftershocks. Other kinds of connections to the same event were felt immediately on campus, as our community quickly gathered to support the Japanese students who study here and to ensure the safety of our own students and faculty members studying in Japan.
A second characteristic is the increasing struggle between homogenization and diversity. In certain regards, we want to drive a greater level of homogeneity. For example, shouldn't there be baseline expectation of nutrition and healthcare among populations around the world? Shouldn't we count on some consistency in human rights and the freedoms that we enjoy in a democratic society? Right here at home, shouldn't we expect that all citizens of Montana have access to the highest standard of education? At the same time, diversity of thought, the celebration of distinctive cultures, biodiversity, and even educational diversity enrich our lives and at a fundamental level, ensure our own persistence as a species. Our challenge will be to recognize when we can move forward through increased uniformity and when we can make progress through diversity.
Another characteristic of the Global Century is our increasing recognition of the intellectual complexity of the opportunities and problems before us. Nearly every big issue we face has components of science, economics, history, creative expression, communication, and so on. Today's problem-solvers will need to bring together appropriately configured teams to make progress, and we will need to appreciate both the power and limitation of individual expertise.
Finally, increasingly we will be challenged by resource availability and the assignment of responsibility, associated with those resources. I am not talking just about natural resources and energy, although the issue is acute in those areas. But, the question arises in the context of global conflict, as we see with recent events in Libya, for example. What is our country's responsibility in that conflict and to what extent do we commit resources? The question of responsibility arises in our own backyard as we engage in heated debates over wolf populations, healthcare, or K-12 educational standards in Montana. One responsibility is perfectly clear, that being our responsibility to prepare citizens for a lifetime of productive civil discourse.
What do these characteristics mean for higher education? In my mind, there are four overarching public policy drivers.
The first of these is the quantitative challenge of achieving a more educated citizenry. Current data and projections indicate a significant gap between the percentage of our population with a college education and the percentage of jobs available that require a college education. In the United States, the percentage of young people with a college credential is currently 39 percent, while the country's workforce will require a college credential for 68 percent of available jobs. The challenge for higher education will be to close that gap by enrolling additional students and by moving more students to completion.
The second big challenge focuses on the nature of today's education. Assuming we can educate the number of people needed, what do we teach them to ensure that they are ready for the Global Century? A number of people here today are familiar with the work of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, an organization committed to deep thought about learning outcomes appropriate for today's college education. AAC&U identifies essential learning outcomes, including "Knowledge of human culture and the physical and natural world," "Intellectual and Practical Skills," "Personal and Social Responsibility," and "Integrative Learning." I believe we have actually done quite well with the first two, and have much to do in regard to the third and fourth outcomes. The fact is, we only rarely have in place mechanisms for integrating the sciences with the humanities, business with the arts, or those wonderful general education courses with one another. We rarely ask our students to think about questions that require a truly interdisciplinary approach. However, I am delighted to report that we have an ongoing dialogue on our campuses, involving some exceptional thinkers, on how we change education to provide students with an experience that does meet these outcomes. Our challenge is to accelerate that discussion and to implement practices to ensure that all students have access to those outcomes. And while AAC&U focuses upon baccalaureate education, we need to recognize the importance of this discussion at the two-year level and at the graduate level.
A third major public policy issue concerns research and discovery. In this age of accountability, we have difficulty arriving at measures that describe the impact of research and creative scholarship in a manner that drives investment. Quantitative metrics certainly exist: dollars of external funding, numbers of publications, presentations, and patents. Fundamentally, though, we know that the impact of research and creative scholarship lies in the discovery of new knowledge and the creation of new works that contribute to economic, social, and cultural development of our society, sometimes through basic research or creative works, sometimes driven by specific questions or product development. The infrastructure necessary to support a vibrant research program, including strong graduate programs, represents a national and local challenge.
The fourth policy issue is the increasingly perplexing question of who should invest in higher education. Historically, our country has accepted the notion of a shared investment. Data from the organization Post-secondary Opportunity shows that in post-WWII years the investment was shared essentially equally between state and student. By the 1970s the federal government had become a partner through grant programs and subsidized loans, and states had increased their investment to about 60 percent of the cost, decreasing the student investment to under 30 percent. Since then, the state share has decreased to 38 percent, the federal government still 12 percent, and the student share is back up to 50 percent. As that student share amounts to an ever-increasing percentage of median family income, we struggle with finding the right balance between the partners. Our challenge is to arrive at an investment scheme reflective of a shared benefit and that results in opportunity for all.
In the context of these public policy issues, where should The University of Montana place its emphasis? I want to turn now to the strategic planning efforts in place at the Missoula campus. I am pleased to announce today the publication of the new strategic plan for UM, called "UM 2020: Building a University for the Global Century." This plan is the result of intensive work on the part of many people. I will resist the temptation to name individuals who played key roles because so many people contributed to the conceptualization, the goal-setting, the writing, and the production of the document itself. Those of you involved, please accept my profound appreciation and recognition of the extraordinary work you have done. At the conclusion of this ceremony, I invite each of you to pick up your copy of UM2020.
The plan is built around our vision to become one of the nation's globally focused universities known for its effectiveness in serving the citizens and needs of its home state. Core values of leadership, diversity, engagement, and sustainability form the foundation of the plan. Upon that foundation, five strategic issues define our direction, each with a set of objectives and metrics of progress. Let me summarize the Strategic Issues.
The first is called Partnering for Student Success. The most direct way of addressing the challenge of increasing the educational attainment of our citizenry is to focus on those students who begin their studies with us but who do not graduate. Partnering for Student Success sets the ambitious goal of taking our first- to second-year retention rates and graduation rates into the top quartile of public research institutions. Partnering speaks to more effective relations with our K-12 community, better coordination of efforts through the recently formed Office for Student Success, and better faculty and staff development to help recognize and work with students at risk. I am pleased that we are already seeing measurable improvements in retention rates.
The second Issue is Education for the Global Century. It involves the redesign of educational programming at the two-year, baccalaureate, and graduate levels to prepare graduates for today's world. We will ask our faculty to incorporate into the curriculum a greater emphasis on the big questions we face as a global society, on interdisciplinary problem-solving, on beyond-the-classroom experiences, and on the exposure of our students to models of leadership.
The third Strategic Issue is called Research and Creative Scholarship to Serve Montana and the World. This effort will substantively increase the impact of our research and creative scholarship by increasing both its quantity and its relevance to today's interdisciplinary questions. We have a special responsibility to nurture a balanced research portfolio reflective of a state university with emphases in the sciences, the arts and humanities, and professional disciplines. We will also increase emphasis on technology transfer and translational research, moving ideas from the university to application, creating exciting opportunities for Montanans.
Creation of a Dynamic Learning Environment, among the most effective in public higher education, is the fourth Strategic Issue. The Dynamic Learning Environment has many components, but people are central. We will increase our ability to attract the best faculty, staff, and administrators available, and then support them with a modern and efficient infrastructure including facilities, information technology, library, and instrumentation. A dynamic learning environment is nurtured by an exhilarating campus atmosphere, charged with wonderful cultural events and ongoing celebrations of diversity, visitors who bring challenging ideas, a spectacular natural setting in a supportive community, and, of course, top-ranked Grizzly Athletics. In short, this campus has been and will continue to be a place where people love to learn and work.
The fifth Strategic Issue is called The Planning-Assessment Continuum. This institution will operate in a planning-driven and assessment-driven mode. During the past six months, we have structured an annual cycle of planning, budgeting, implementation, and assessment. This process will be participatory, transparent, and will ensure that we put our money where our goals are. The annual assessment report card will keep our progress constantly in front of us, catalyzing a continuous practice of self-evaluation and improvement.
Let me conclude with some exciting announcements of specific implementations of those strategic directions. I am pleased to announce today the creation of the Global Leadership Initiative. This will be our pathway to developing a new model of baccalaureate education for the Global Century. With the help of private donors, we have already developed nearly a $1 million fund that will support students who become Leadership Fellows. Fellows will complete, in addition to their regular coursework, a first-year program of exposure to the "Big Questions of our Global Society," a second-year Models of Leadership program in which they spend time with some of the nation's leaders from business, government, and academe. Fellows will complete a significant "beyond the classroom experience" such as study abroad, undergraduate research, an internship, or civic engagement project. Finally, as seniors, they will work in interdisciplinary groups to define real questions of local, national, or worldwide importance and develop solutions to them, bringing their own expertise and experience to the table.
During the upcoming year, we will embark upon an effort to identify and nurture a set of Programs of National Distinction which will become targets for focused investment. This effort will be based upon a competitive process of identifying programs on the cusp of truly national impact because of their educational programming, their research and scholarship, and their potential for affecting the lives of citizens. Working with the faculty, the Provost will develop criteria for selection of the Programs, accept applications, review them using a panel of individuals who are themselves of national distinction, and begin moving the selected programs along the path to distinction.
We will take on the development of certain facilities to foster student success. In particular, with the help of private funding, the Library Commons will be constructed on the ground floor of the Mansfield Library. It will bring together in a technology-rich environment those services that help ensure our students' success and engagement. Our student-athletes will soon have improved facilities "behind the scenes." While Washington-Grizzly stadium and the Adams Center are among the finest facilities in the Big Sky and, indeed, in Division 1 FCS schools, our weight rooms, locker rooms, and academic center are not up to our standards.
I also announce today the redoubling of our efforts to build a new College of Technology for the Missoula campus. This building will provide a state-of-the-art facility for our two-year students and the faculty that teaches them. We came close to obtaining Legislative approval this session. The exceptionally hard work of so many people must and will come to fruition next time.
The affiliated campuses of The University of Montana have both an awesome responsibility and a tremendous opportunity to contribute to the Global Century. I believe that there has never been a more important time for higher education. We have great challenges before us, ladies and gentlemen, and education is the key to meeting those challenges. I could not be prouder to accept this leadership role, knowing that all of you are just as passionate about our future as I am.
Thank you for your trust and dedication and for celebrating together today.