Mason: Faculty, staff continue to achieve greatness

UI President Sally Mason

UI President Sally Mason. Photo by Tim Schoon.

Welcome to the 2010–2011 academic year! Students are making their way back to our classrooms and community, and faculty and staff are making their way back to their buildings, offices, labs, studios, and libraries. The anticipation and excitement for new beginnings that we always feel this time of year energize the promise of learning and discovery that is the hallmark of academic life. I am proud to join you as we embark on another year of teaching, research, creative endeavor, and service at this superb university.

The past two years have been among the most challenging in University history with the nation’s economic difficulties and the renewal of our campus after the historic flood. The University of Iowa has responded as it always does: with a deep sense of commitment, collaboration, and community. We begin this year still facing these challenges, but I am confident that we will continue to move the UI forward in innovative ways. I thank every member of the UI community for their support, patience, imagination, and collegiality in both the past and coming months.

In those coming months, one place we will see our forward movement is in the finalization of our strategic vision and priorities under the leadership of Executive Vice President and Provost Wallace Loh. This plan will create a roadmap for the development of the focused areas of excellence that we are already committed to, such as student success, interdisciplinary excellence, and faculty and staff preeminence. Over the past year, we have seen remarkable examples of our strengths in all of these areas and will continue that momentum in the coming year.

In the area of student success, we have seen the robust growth of University College initiatives, such as first-year seminars and living-learning communities. These programs—and others—will continue to grow at the same time we increase our efforts to reduce harmful binge drinking among our students. The just-opened Campus Recreation and Wellness Center will be a particular boon to our students’ health and well-being. These enhancements to student life and learning are especially important as we welcome a record number of first-year students to campus, who are also among our most diverse and academically accomplished ever.

Faculty and staff have garnered amazing achievements over the past year, clearly demonstrating our scholarly preeminence. We are still celebrating Timothy Barrett’s MacArthur “genius” fellowship of last year. Four faculty members won Guggenheim Fellowships: Lea VanderVelde of the College of Law, Paula Michaels of the Department of History in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Writers’ Workshop faculty Ethan Canin and Paul Harding, the latter who also won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. These are only a few of the many national and international accomplishments of our talented faculty and staff.

Another record year in research funding

Our excellence is also reflected in another major achievement: Even in the midst of difficult economic times, we shattered a research funding record once again this past year, posting a 9 percent increase over the previous year at $466.5 million. The UI is in the top 20 among public universities in federally financed expenditures for research and development, and we rank 13th in NIH awards among all public universities. In another important area of support, the UI Foundation set a record for the highest number of contributors ever, with the total of $169.6 million marking the third best year ever. Even in uncertain economic times, our faculty and staff demonstrate remarkable productivity, and our friends and donors show their persistent and generous dedication to our mission.

Our interdisciplinary excellence has taken major steps forward in the past year in the area of sustainability, with the inauguration of our new Certificate in Sustainability Studies and the hiring of our first faculty members in the water sustainability cluster. You may have also noticed the new campus wind turbine on Madison Street, which will be used both as a teaching tool and power generator thanks to Industrial and Mechanical Engineering Professor Pablo Carrica’s grant from the Iowa Alliance for Wind Innovation and Novel Development (IAWIND).

Even in uncertain economic times, our faculty and staff demonstrate remarkable productivity, and our friends and donors show their persistent and generous dedication to our mission.

This past year, we celebrated the opening of our first three LEED-designed buildings (the Beckwith Boathouse, the Sports Medicine facility, and the new State Hygienic Lab), we are now seeing the completion of our first LEED-designed renovation (Stuit Hall, formerly the Old Music Building), and, in the year ahead, we will see the College of Public Health building and the Carver-Hawkeye Arena renovation near completion. The newly opened Campus Recreation and Wellness Center also features many sustainable and energy-saving design elements that bring it well beyond Iowa energy code standards.

We will also make significant progress in the coming year on the rebuilding of our arts facilities in the wake of the 2008 flood. Final location plans and initial design plans are under way for the new music building and recital hall, Hancher Auditorium, and the new art building. Even as we finish renovations for the reopening of Art Building West, that architectural treasure has won yet another accolade: an Excellence in Architecture Merit Award in the new building category from the Society for College and University Planning. We are also poised for major progress on a new Museum of Art with the hiring of a new director, Sean O’Harrow, currently executive director of Davenport’s Figge Art Museum.

Of course, our music, theatre, and visual arts programs continue their excellence in teaching, research, and creative endeavor right now, and I urge everyone to continue to support their programs and performances even as they take place in other venues. Hancher Auditorium has another spectacular slate of programming throughout the community, pieces from our Museum of Art collection continue to be exhibited on campus and elsewhere, and our music, theatre, and art faculty, staff, and students continue to bring their talents to the public in performances and exhibitions.

Budgetary challenges remain

Despite our successes and our forward momentum, the budget remains an area of primary interest and concern for all of us. Although there are signs of economic recovery at both the state and national levels, many challenges remain before us. We have started this fiscal year with a balanced budget that incorporates all the appropriation reductions we have faced, yet responds to the most important needs of our students, faculty, and staff.

We have followed these principles to guide our budget decisions: 1) protect affordability and maintain a strong core teaching and learning environment for students, 2) continue support of growing research and clinical enterprises funded outside the General Education Fund, 3) maintain flood recovery progress, and 4) protect people to the greatest degree possible. As we move forward in this climate of economic uncertainty, we will continue to follow these principles.

By many measures, the 2009–2010 academic year was an excellent one for our University and its future prospects. My goal as president is to ensure that we successfully fulfill—and exceed—those prospects in the coming year. As always, we will do so together, as a University community dedicated to excellence and providing the learning, discovery, and engagement that our state, nation, and world expect of us. I wish you the very best in the year ahead.

President Sally Mason