President Munson’s Address to the RIT Community, 2019

President David Munson addressed the RIT community on Aug. 23 in Ingle Auditorium. The full text of his speech is below:

Welcome back everyone! I hope you all had a productive, restful and enjoyable summer. Let me start by welcoming some new leadership:

  • The first is a familiar face, our new dean of the College of Engineering Technology: S. Manian Ramkumar. Ram is an RIT alumnus and he is well known to all of us as a long-time faculty member and successful administrator. He is leading one of RIT’s oldest colleges.
  • Our new dean of the College of Art and Design: Todd Jokl. Todd was previously the campus dean of the University of New Haven’s Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts in Connecticut. Todd brings deep academic experience combined with an engaging spirit and enthusiasm for driving multidisciplinary initiatives across a university.
  • Carmala Garzione has started in the new position of Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs. Carmie has an extensive career in higher education, most recently serving as a professor at the University of Rochester and director of its Center for Energy and the Environment. In her new role, she will focus on faculty development, recruitment and retention, as well as advocate for and advance the work of faculty.
  • We also recently selected an endowed executive director for our new Global Cybersecurity Institute: Steve Hoover. Steve is the former chief technology officer and senior vice president at Xerox, as well as the former chief executive officer of the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). 

Ram, Todd, Carmie, and Steve: If you could please stand and be recognized if you are in attendance.

RIT is always on to something, so let me recap some amazing accomplishments from the past year before we talk about our vision for the future.

  • We adopted the 2025 Strategic Plan — Greatness Through Difference. I want to thank Kit Mayberry for her leadership throughout the process.  The Plan calls for us to more purposefully focus on the intersection of technology, the arts and design.  In this regard, it calls for new programs and facilities that will create a distinctive position for RIT within higher ed, which will lock in our position as a school of choice for prospective undergraduate students. The Plan also calls for us to build new Ph.D. programs and increase our capacity for research and scholarship.  The Plan also has many other elements, including a focus on diversity, inclusion, well-being, and community partnerships.  You can find our Plan on the web by simply searching for “RIT strategic plan.”
  • We opened the magnificent MAGIC Spell Studios, which focuses on education, product development, and commercialization in the areas of film and animation, electronic games, and virtual reality. As part of MAGIC Spell Studios, outside companies are invited to campus to expand and work in a dedicated collaborative partner suite. Forbes Media became the first in-residence company that is providing such experiential learning opportunities for our students. And video and animation companies — including one created by RIT alumnus Aaron Gordon, called Optic Sky — are booking commercial projects in Magic’s studios that rival the facilities in New York City and Hollywood.
  • We celebrated NTID’s 50th anniversary …. And our 50th year on the Henrietta campus …. Both are significant milestones!
  • We graduated an all-time record 4,200 students in May. This pushes our global alumni network to more than 130,000 alumni.
  • As part of that count, we had more than 500 students graduate this spring from RIT’s international campuses. This includes RIT China, where our campus in Weihei celebrated its first commencement ceremony as it recognized the initial class of students to earn B.S. degrees in management information systems.
  • We continue to make excellent strides in research. This includes:
    • $74 million in new sponsored research funding — our second best ever total.
    • A record year for research expenditures at approximately $61 million
    • Our second-best year for the number of proposals submitted — 731.

In more recent news over the summer:

  • Callie Babbitt, an associate professor in RIT’s Golisano Institute for Sustainability, received a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program award to study sustainable solutions that will address the growing challenge of food waste management along Croatia’s Adriatic coast.
  • A 2018 alumnus, Andrew Ramsey, received a Fulbright U.S. Student Program award in computer engineering to help drones assist with search and rescue operations in difficult terrain such as dense forests or steep mountains where GPS might not be reliable. Andrew will conduct his research in Austria.
  • Larwan Berke, a computing and information sciences Ph.D. student, was one of only 11 outstanding doctoral students selected in North America to receive the 2019 Microsoft Research Dissertation Grant. Each dissertation grant provides up to $25,000 in funding to doctoral students who are underrepresented in the field of computing. Larwan, who is deaf, is working to improve the usability of captions produced by automatic speech recognition for people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing
  • RIT’s Esports team joined 20 other top colleges at the first-ever ESPN Collegiate Esports Championship in Houston. RIT finished as one of the top four teams in the country, with three RIT student players each receiving $7,500 in tuition scholarships.

Whether it is Esports; cybersecurity competitions; Baja and formula car races; musical performances; or representing RIT valiantly on the field, court, or ice, our students all have something special … a passion to make a difference. We think we’ve captured that in this new video. Let’s take a moment to watch “Advancing the Exceptional:”

Wow. I think that really captures it! Thank you to our Marketing and Communications team. They’re always on to something amazing, too.

We have hit a fundraising milestone — we have reached $626 million in our publicly launched $1 billion campaign. “Transforming RIT: The Campaign for Greatness” is unique because it is blended—meaning we are seeking and counting support from a variety of sources, including alumni and friends, government and corporate partners, and research foundations and agencies.

     We are focused on raising funds to support four priorities:

  • Attracting Exceptional Talent: This includes increased undergraduate and graduate scholarship opportunities, Ph.D. fellowships, new endowed professorships, and a strong focus on diversity.
  • Enhancing the Student Experience: We seek to broaden opportunities for experiential learning for students, including building innovative maker and learning facilities and greatly strengthening our performing arts programs.
  • Improving the World through Research and Discovery by promoting interdisciplinary research centers, expanding and enhancing fundamental and corporate research activities, and improving facilities.
  • Leading Future Special Initiatives: Here, funding will go toward building academic programs and growing endowment support. And with increased unrestricted support, we will have further financial flexibility to meet our strategic needs.

We have compelling success stories to illustrate what we mean by “blended campaign.” For example, the aforementioned MAGIC Spell Studios and Global Cybersecurity Institute both include funding from New York State, corporations, and alumnus and Trustee Austin McChord.  

By working together, we can ensure that RIT remains a leader in creating the future. Your engagement with alumni, increased research contract work, and collaboration with industry all support this initiative. We are thankful to all who have participated and generously provided support to date: private donors, corporate partners, foundations, and governmental sponsors at the local, state and federal levels. Thank you all for your help in Transforming RIT!

Let’s continue to look forward, and start with some enrollment highlights for this fall.

  • There are approximately 4,300 first-year, transfer, and new graduate students on the main campus. 
  • This number comes with bad news and good news.  It is about 300 students short of what we had planned for, so we have a one-year budget shortfall that we are dealing with. 
  • On the positive side, our freshman class is the most academically qualified class in RIT’s history, with an average SAT score once again exceeding 1300, a higher average GPA, a higher percentage of female students, a higher percentage of students of color, and a lower acceptance rate.
  • 51 freshmen scored perfect SAT math scores; six scored perfectly on Evidence-Based Reading and Writing; and four scored perfectly on the ACT.
  • In addition, 52 freshmen graduated No. 1 in their high school class.
  • Undergraduate students hail from 47 states plus Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and represent 42 countries. Countries with the greatest representation in order are China, India, and Vietnam.
  • Graduate students represent 53 countries, with the top countries of origin being India, China, Saudi Arabia, and Nigeria.
  • For the first time this year, we introduced performing arts scholarships where we received and judged 279 digital submissions that included auditions in vocal and instrumental music, musical theater, dance, acting, and technical production. We have about 150 new Tigers on campus this fall who accepted this scholarship.
  • And finally, our pipeline for new Ph.D. students has reached an all-time high with more than 90 new students pursuing doctoral degrees.

Let’s talk about some upcoming major Initiatives:

The first is that, under the direction of Vice President Ian Mortimer, we are revamping our student recruitment process to reach more prospective students and better showcase the distinctiveness and strengths of RIT. This effort is receiving a measurable boost from our improved marketing and communications efforts, including our new web site and media buys in selected regions of the U.S. Soon, this effort will be buoyed by new facilities, which I will touch on in a moment. Despite the declining high school demographic in the Northeast, we can expect to see many more student applications, reduced acceptance rates, and more incoming students from families who can afford to pay full tuition. This trajectory will enhance the revenue picture for RIT, allowing us to improve our university in multiple dimensions. And one of these dimensions also includes additional support for student financial aid as RIT continues to remain accessible to all families, including first-generation students.

Construction is under way on the new Global Cybersecurity Institute that will be a premier center for cybersecurity education, research, and service to corporations and governments. The Institute will contain state-of-the-art simulation facilities to produce highly educated and experienced professionals who are positioned to solve the world’s most critical cybersecurity problems, both now and in the future. 

We have made progress on the Innovative Making and Learning Complex (IMLC). You may recall this project was seeded by Austin McChord in his historic $50 million gift to the university. This past spring, a programmatic study was completed by a large task force chaired by Jim Yarrington, our director of campus planning, design and construction services. We subsequently interviewed five finalists among competing architecture firms and selected Wiliam Rawn Associates from Boston. This firm has vast experience in higher education, including design of libraries, student centers, maker spaces, and theaters. This will be the largest single construction project on campus in 50 years — when RIT made its transformative move from downtown to Henrietta — and it will creatively redesign, connect, and utilize space in Wallace Library and the Student Alumni Union.

The IMLC will contain or represent many forms of making from throughout RIT, including from the performing and studio arts as well as the STEM disciplines. There will be ample space for making facilities, student project teams, and classrooms of the future, in an open, transparent environment. This new complex will serve as an emblem of RIT, illustrating what we’re all about, both to visitors and to ourselves. The IMLC is expected to be a launch point for student tours and a magnet for student recruitment.  We expect that the design cycle will take us until at least next summer, followed by two years of construction. When this facility is complete, we will have the feeling of Imagine RIT every day!

I have spoken often about the performing arts at RIT. We have instituted some new programming and added a small number of faculty and staff, and offered the performing arts scholarships mentioned earlier. But to make a major move, we need a performing arts center, which will help attract the faculty and multi-talented students we most seek. At the moment, we do not have the resources assembled for the entire project. But, this fall, we will select an architect to design a facility specifically for musical theater. We are choosing a focus on musical theater, partly based on strong student interest, but also because this medium integrates music, theater, dance and technology, i.e. it covers all the bases. This facility is likely to be larger than Ingle and Panara, with a huge stage, an expansive back-stage and wings, a very high ceiling over the stage and an ability to fly sets, and a pit for an orchestra. My best guess is that we will see this facility under construction in parallel with the IMLC.

Speaking of campus construction, we should not forget that RIT Dubai is constructing a brand-new campus in the Dubai Silicon Oasis. The new campus, which will feature an innovation and entrepreneurship center and sustainable building processes, will be developed in two phases, with the first portion set to open later this year and the second to open in 2023. The United Arab Emirates government is funding this approximately $136 million project, for which we are most grateful.

I want to give you an early indication that there is some consideration being given to upgrading our athletic facilities.  At the top of the list would be a real stadium and additional artificial turf fields.  My feeling is that we could be better serving our 650 varsity athletes, in 24 sports, and many, many more students in club sports and intramurals. Accordingly, last winter, we commissioned a study from a national firm to perform a complete survey of our existing facilities and to suggest options for what we might do in the future. But, before going too far down this path, we need to revisit a question that has been asked before: Should RIT move to NCAA Division I?  I don’t know the answer to this question, but the answer likely would impact our facility plans. So, just recently, I assembled a small task force to study the possible advantages and disadvantages to RIT were we to move to Division I athletics. This is not a new conversation.  Fifteen (15) years ago our Board of Trustees conducted a thorough study of this question.  They produced a balanced report without any definitive conclusion on Division I versus III.  There are at least three things that have changed since the time of that report:  RIT has grown – we are one of the very largest Division III schools in the nation, we have gained experience with Division I hockey, and we are not considering football. I don’t want for anyone to get alarmed about this issue – this is just a head’s up.  We would not move very far down this path without donor support. And, given the vagaries of the NCAA, it takes at least 10 years to move from Division III to Division I.

Let me now provide an update on a topic of critical importance. You will recall I convened a University Task Force on Student Mental Health and Well-being to position the University to think strategically about these issues. The Task Force was charged to conduct a comprehensive review of existing campus programs, services, and education efforts in mental health and well-being and to prepare short- and long-term recommendations to enhance our holistic and inclusive approach to mental health and well-being.

The Task Force completed its report in June, and we distributed it to the campus community in July. I thank the entire Task Force, with a special acknowledgment to its co-chairs Jodi Boita and Andrew Herbert, for a job very well done. The Task Force spent much of the spring semester meeting with students, faculty, and staff; surveying current practices; and consulting with a national expert in the field of college mental health. The report emphasizes the importance of an integrated campus-wide approach to meet the increasing demand for mental health and well-being services, which includes professional treatment services, wellness educational programming, and operational improvements. The report states that RIT is a “campus reacting to increased demand for mental health and well-being services; specifically, a campus working to meet a level of unprecedented demand.” The findings acknowledge that RIT has an extensive range of resources and services available to support and serve students, but they also make it clear that more work is needed to build on our culture of care and to bolster efforts to make the network of support even stronger.

Of course, this is just a summary.  The full report contains many specific observations and recommendations.  What’s next? Now that our students have returned to campus, staff within the Division of Student Affairs will be working with the Student Government and other entities to organize campus-wide conversations about the report and how we might best follow up.  Progress will require the participation of students, faculty, and staff at all levels to create an ecosystem that supports well-being in all aspects of campus life. Our goal is to create a healthy campus culture where students can best succeed in reaching their academic and personal goals.  Please stay tuned for further information.

Let me conclude by thanking you all for doing your part to move this university forward. We have both challenges and opportunities ahead. I promise it will be an engaging and invigorating journey as we pursue our strategic plan and make our mark on the world. I am honored to be working with you -- such an exceptional group of talented faculty, staff, and students.

Thank you for all you do.

Go Tigers!