President Destler welcomes back RIT community

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A. Sue Weisler

President Bill Destler welcomed back the RIT community Tuesday at his annual President’s Address.

President Bill Destler welcomed back the RIT community Tuesday by highlighting recent accomplishments and outlining goals for the 2011–2012 academic year.

“First and foremost, welcome back! I hope that for all of you the summer brought at least some time off from work and the renewed energy and enthusiasm that comes from a well-deserved vacation. Although I know that some of you, especially the humanists among you, will be disappointed, I have decided to forgo the usual mind-numbing set of charts and figures detailing our progress toward our strategic goals over the last year. This is not to indicate that progress was not made or that we have taken our eyes off of these goals, in fact last year was a great year for the university in almost every area. Frankly, very little of this progress is due to me. Almost everything that has been accomplished is due to you and countless others around the campus. It is better to be lucky than good, and I am clearly a very lucky guy.

“This past year undergraduate and graduate applications were way up, the incoming freshman class is stronger than ever, and private fundraising rebounded to almost $29 million last year. RIT was recently named one of the top 13 campuses nationwide for the quality of its career-development services, and about 91 percent of last year’s freshman are still enrolled, continuing the great progress that was made in this area the previous year. Our reputation for the quality of our programs continues to rise, with eight of our degree programs now ranked in the top 10 nationally, the latest being our undergraduate and graduate game design and development programs. Our MBA program was recently ranked for the first time, and despite the fact that we offer no Ph.D. program in business to bolster our research reputation in this area, we ranked ahead of Syracuse, Case Western and Drexel, among others.

“On the academic side, we are on track in our plans to move from quarters to semesters in the fall of 2013. In fact, 76 percent of our degree programs have been redesigned, moved through the campus approval process, and submitted to the state for approval. We will welcome our first graduate students in architecture this fall, and the new Institute for Health Sciences and Technology, containing RIT’s ninth college, the College of Health Sciences and Technology, will enroll almost 800 students in September. We approved a new General Education Program and a Writing Across the Curriculum Program, and our faculty and students continued to win numerous national and international awards for their creative and innovative work.

“Opportunities for a holistic student life experience outside of the classroom continue to grow, with strong input from an increasingly engaged student body led by RIT’s Student Government under the leadership of the unflappable and unstoppable Greg Pollock. Our intercollegiate athletic teams had one of the best years in recent memory, including championship seasons from men’s and women’s hockey and men’s lacrosse, and this fall we will compete in the Liberty League for the first time against some of the finest private colleges and universities in the nation, including RPI, Union, St. Lawrence, Hobart/William Smith, Skidmore, Vassar, Clarkson, Bard and the University of Rochester.

“The prolonged budgetary battles in both the New York state and federal legislatures have made external education and research funding even more difficult to obtain, but despite that fact RIT now ranks in the top 50 private universities in research expenditures, a position not even dreamed of a decade ago. And in the worst federal budgetary climate I can remember, NTID received a $2.4 million increase in its federal funding allocation in recognition of the simply outstanding work of the entire NTID community.

“The financial health of RIT continues to be strong, with Moody’s rating our debt as Grade A, citing our financial management staff as a “key strength” of the university. This financial health and aggressive fundraising has allowed RIT to continue to grow and add new programs and facilities at a time when many colleges and universities are retrenching. For example, a new facility has been constructed for our RIT Dubai campus at no cost to RIT, the new facility for the Golisano Institute for Sustainability, now under construction, has been funded almost entirely from external sources, and increased tuition revenue from our new Chemical and Biomedical Engineering programs will amortize Institute Hall, also currently under construction. New locker rooms to be used by hockey, soccer, lacrosse and other field sports are currently being completed adjacent to Ritter Arena, and construction on Sebastian and Lenore Rosica Hall, an innovation center for NTID, will commence shortly with funding entirely from external sources. Finally, plans for our new hockey arena are under way, and fundraising efforts for the arena are continuing toward our goal of $15 million. I am hoping to have a significant announcement related to this effort in the next month or two.

“And this year we welcome a significant number of new faces to the RIT administrative team, including Gerry Buckley as president/dean of NTID, Lorraine Justice as dean of CIAS, Jamie Winebrake as dean of COLA, Andrew Sears as dean of GCCIS, Hector Flores as dean of graduate studies, Ryne Raffaelle as vice president for research, and Enid Cardinal as senior sustainability advisor to the president. I hope that all of you will give them your support as we all work to sustain RIT’s amazing positive trajectory.

“There was sad news, as well, including the death of several of our students and the loss of Joan Stone, former dean of CIAS and an incredible contributor to RIT in so many areas, as well as several beloved faculty members including chemistry Professor Andreas Langner. I know that all of you join me in offering our heartfelt condolences to the families of these valued members of the RIT community.

“And of course there is much more news, almost all of it good, but I want to spend the rest of my time talking about a few areas where we need to re-engage our campus community over the next year. The first of these is in the general area of diversity. Kevin McDonald has been a tremendous addition to RIT as our chief diversity officer, and I have elevated his position to that of vice president for diversity and inclusion, effective immediately. Nevertheless, despite strong efforts by many of you, progress in building the diversity of our student, faculty and staff populations has been spotty, and we need to rededicate ourselves to this important work over the year ahead. For example, although our female undergraduate enrollment in engineering and other STEM fields has been increasing, overall female enrollment has stagnated at about 34 percent of our undergraduate students due to declining female enrollments in other colleges and programs. As a result, this year I have asked the President’s Commission on Women, led by Co-Chairs Margaret Baily and Mary-Beth Cooper, to examine this issue at the college, department and program level to determine where we need to focus our attention to achieve our stated goal of having 40 percent of all undergraduates be female. Vice President McDonald will also be charged with examining all of our faculty, staff and student recruitment efforts to ensure that our recent progress in increasing the AALANA populations across campus can be maintained and accelerated if possible.

“Although we have made enormous progress in improving RIT’s reputation as a national leader in the area of sustainability in our operations and academic programs (a big thank you to Rebecca Johnson for her behind-the-scenes work and advocacy in this area), the arrival of Enid Cardinal to lead these efforts should encourage renewed energy and innovation in this area all over the campus.

“And while RIT is strong financially, it is clear to almost everyone that tuition cannot continue to increase at a rate faster than inflation if we are to maintain anything like broad access to higher education in this country to an increasingly diverse student population. With the encouragement of the Trustees, I have asked Provost Haefner and Senior Vice President Watters to look at ways in which we can improve operational and educational efficiencies with the goal of holding future tuition increases closer to the rate of inflation.

“We have also been asked by the Board of Trustees to take a new look at possible new models for higher education utilizing improved Internet bandwidth and multimedia capabilities and the various fast-growing social media outlets. This fall, I will ask a select group of faculty, staff and administrators to assess the challenges and opportunities that this changing landscape present to RIT, and to make recommendations for ways in which RIT can continue to be an educational leader in a changing world.

“Finally, we in academia have an opportunity to serve as examples of how to engage in civil discourse in an increasingly polarized nation. Many of us are dismayed at the extent to which intelligent discussions on complex issues can seemingly no longer be held without the kind of hysterical acrimony that only serves to harden positions and make compromise impossible. Let us all remember that colleges and universities, of all organizations, must remain forums for open and respected discussion of controversial issues. We are all part of a learning community, and much of our learning comes from each other. Respect for the opinions of others, even when we strongly disagree with them, must be a cornerstone of our campus community. If we practice this principle in our daily work, surely our students will also get the message, to the benefit of our community and our country.

“I am now entering my fifth year as your president. I cannot thank you enough for your support and for your work to advance this amazing university, and I look forward to working with all of you during the upcoming year.”