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"At UofL: Full Steam Ahead"

by Smith,Ukiah last modified Jun 29, 2009 10:50 AM

"At UofL: Full Steam Ahead," Louisville Courier-Journal, Nov. 17, 2002

I’ve spent most of my time becoming better acquainted with U of L through its people. From the solid leadership team of vice presidents and deans through the tireless enthusiasm of faculty and staff, I’ve found a strong focus on students and shared support for the university’s teaching and research mission.

When I was asked on August 1 whether I would be interested in serving as the University of Louisville’s acting president, I began to consider the strategic importance of the university to the success of our community and state. I especially considered the lead role U of L played in support of higher education reform both before and during the enactment of House Bill 1.

I considered the rapid progress U of L has made toward the achievement of the ambitious goals set forth in HB 1 and the university’s strategic plan, the Challenge for Excellence, which was created to ensure that it meets those goals. This strategic plan has strengthened academic programs at all levels, allowed U of L to recruit and retain outstanding faculty scholars and researchers, grown U of L’s research initiatives and built new partnerships across the world.

I considered how these gains serve our students – the reason we are here -- as well as our region by graduating well-prepared leaders, increasing economic development and improving our quality of life.

Considering all of these things, I realized that neither U of L, nor the community or state, could slow down this progress during the period between permanent presidents. So I left the day-to-day responsibilities of the state budget office in the hands of its capable professional staff and agreed to serve as acting president for U of L.

My single goal at the time was to keep the university moving, full speed ahead, during the search for its next president.

After my appointment and in the first weeks of my acting presidency, I consistently indicated that I would not seek the permanent position because I felt the university would not be well served if the acting president were also a candidate. I wanted to be able to make the critical decisions needed to maintain the university’s momentum without worrying about how each decision would influence the search.

I also respected the search process and felt that an internal candidate would discourage others from applying, hampering the search committee’s ability to attract a strong pool of candidates. In fact, I encouraged potential candidates to apply, telling them what a tremendous opportunity the university offers its next president.

Now, 75 days later, I am delighted to find that my temporary position has become a long-term opportunity to be part of a dynamic, changing university. Not surprisingly, the question I have been asked most often in the past week is this: “What made you change your mind?”

The First 75 Days

When I became acting president, I thought I knew a lot about U of L as a member of its economics faculty and through my interactions with its leadership team at the state level. But two-and-a-half months later, I’ve learned much more about this university and the remarkable dedication of its faculty, staff and friends.

I’ve spent most of my time becoming better acquainted with U of L through its people. From the solid leadership team of vice presidents and deans through the tireless enthusiasm of faculty and staff, I’ve found a strong focus on students and shared support for the university’s teaching and research mission.

I’ve found bright, talented students taking advantage of the university’s metropolitan connections and nationally recognized faculty. I’ve met with prospective students who are exploring U of L because of its growing reputation for strong undergraduate, graduate and professional programs.

I’ve talked with loyal alumni who are proud of our history and traditions and who are giving back to the university to make it even better. And I’ve talked with donors who support U of L projects and programs because they know that we’ll make a difference, whether it’s in health care, engineering, business, social work or the arts and humanities.

I have met with the numerous volunteers who serve on the many boards and groups associated with the university. From our trustees to our athletics and alumni boards to our community overseers, all of these important groups and the individuals who volunteer their time to the university are positive about the university’s future and remain committed to us at this critical juncture in our history.

Partnerships in the News

I have also met with many of our state and federal legislators and they, too, are keenly interested in and supportive of U of L. I have met with many partners who have joined forces with us on ambitious, ground-breaking projects like the pending Cancer Hospital and Cardiovascular Innovation Institute.

In my first weeks as acting president, for example, we announced another move toward our efforts to achieve National Cancer Institute designation as a comprehensive cancer center, a major step that will contribute to the success of the Cancer Hospital partnership with Norton Healthcare.

This announcement came close on the heels of news about a proposed Cardiovascular Innovation Institute, a partnership between U of L, Jewish Hospital, the state Office of the New Economy, and Sen. Mitch McConnell and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Like the cancer hospital, the institute will ensure that the region has access to leading-edge health care and new economic opportunities.

We also announced the hiring of Cornell law professor Larry Palmer as our newest faculty member attracted through the Research Challenge Trust Fund, or “Bucks for Brains,” another partnership between the state, the university and private donors. Professor Palmer is an expert on urban health issues, including racial and ethnic health disparities, and will work in U of L’s Institute for Bioethics, Health Policy and Law in January.

We also joined U.S. Rep. Anne Northup as she announced $250,000 in funding from the Department of Health and Human Services to help create a National Resource Center on Child Welfare Training and Evaluation at U of L.

We announced the designation of our Center for Deterrence of Biowarfare and Bioterrorism as one of the nation’s seven specialty centers for public health preparedness. Sen. McConnell helped secure $1.5 million in federal funding from the Centers for Disease Control for this important initiative.

And most recently, we announced an $8.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health for the U of L Birth Defects Center. These funds will help U of L dental school faculty develop methods to prevent, diagnose and treat birth defects.

These achievements represent the results of HB 1 and the Challenge for Excellence as well as the hard work and commitment of U of L’s faculty, staff and many friends and partners. As we announced these successes, I began to think about how much more we will accomplish if the university stays on course.

Other Signs of Success

I have seen many more signs of U of L’s continuing momentum during the last 75 days. Fall enrollment held strong, with an estimated 21,000 students attending U of L, reflecting our focus on quality rather than quantity. In fact, this year’s freshman class is the brightest in recent history as measured by ACT scores and other factors, and it’s also one of our most diverse. More and more outstanding students are making U of L their school of choice.

And as we continue to expand opportunities to live on campus with the recent opening of Bettie Johnson Hall and the current construction of an additional residence hall, we are seeing more and more students attracted to Louisville from other parts of the state and beyond. This helps us meet our statewide mission, exposes new students and families to the benefits of our community, and broadens the experiences of all of our students.

We also begin to anticipate new opportunities working with Greater Louisville Inc. and with Mayor Jerry Abramson to contribute to the educational and economic success of our new merged community.

And we continue to attract record amounts of external support, which helps us recruit outstanding faculty, who then attract more funding. The cycle will grow as we work to become nationally recognized for both our teaching and our research. I have learned that our commitment is real as we see new opportunities for students, new economic opportunities for the community and state, and an improved quality of life for all Kentuckians through better health care, education, social services and other areas.

Full Speed Ahead

Good educators themselves continue to learn. During the last 75 days, I learned that the keys to achieving the goals of HB 1—of advancing students, the community and state through education and research—are found on our university campuses. And I’ve discovered that U of L, as it was from the beginning, is helping lead the way.

So I listened carefully as I was approached in recent weeks by individual trustees, faculty, staff, students, alumni and business, political, health-care and community leaders urging me to consider becoming a candidate for U of L’s presidency. I valued their support and commitment to the university.

I learned that I share this commitment, and I believed that the best way I could apply my newfound knowledge would be to contribute to the university’s future as its president. I am deeply honored that my expression of interest was returned.

But the most important lesson I learned is that U of L has benefited not only from outstanding leadership, but also from employees, friends and partners who respect its history and share a unified vision for its future. It is these employees, friends and partners who are maintaining the university’s momentum—full speed ahead—and who will guide me during this important time in the life of the university.

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