“Firm Resolve” Steers Institute, President Jackson Reported at Town Meeting
As the Institute weathers difficult challenges in the 21st century, principles outlined in The Rensselaer Plan and Stephen Van Rensselaer’s founding document continue to be the guideposts for firm resolve that successfully steer the university on a transformative path.
This was the underlying theme of an address presented by President Shirley Ann Jackson at the fall Town Meeting for the Rensselaer community Nov. 16 at the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center.
“Resolve means knowing your priorities, keeping your promises, and keeping your focus. For over 10 years, this has meant using The Rensselaer Plan as a guide and a touchstone. Along the way, we have seen our university transform substantially, and we have seen the world change,” President Jackson said. “The many achievements, achievements by people in this room, have demonstrated the vitality of the Plan and how well it embodies our values. We continue to enrich our university through portfolio performance plans that reference our goals, and bring benefits to our community and the world. The ‘common purposes’ are well served by people of ingenuity, knowledge, imagination, and tenacity. As a result, we have accomplishments in research, education, and community service...
“But, as our university has moved forward, the world has changed, and these changes impact our tactics. We have needed to be flexible and resourceful, yet steadfast, in how we achieve our goals. Most dramatically, we have had to confront the ups and downs of an economy that is beyond our control.
“Rensselaer is strong and solvent, but it is not immune to the weak economy that surrounds us. We manage our expenses very carefully as our investments continue to recover from the great recession of the last three years. Anyone who manages a household budget or who has retirement savings knows exactly what I am talking about.”
President Jackson said that among the top priorities for the Institute is the continued recruitment and retention of excellent faculty. The Institute, she explained, has a short-term goal of expanding tenured and tenure-track positions to 400, and a long-term goal of 500. The addition of these positions will require the commitment of significant resources, but the Institute is committed to making the investment that will be required.
She added that a revised Faculty Senate constitution has been under administrative and external legal review to ensure compliance with Board of Trustees resolutions on the definition and role in shared governance. She said she anticipates that the matter will be resolved in the near future.
In addition to expanding faculty resources, President Jackson explained, another key goal is construction of a new Center for Science, along with a fundraising campaign to support the center and faculty resources. The Board of Trustees has approved a focused fundraising campaign of $150 to $170 million for these purposes. A new comprehensive capital fundraising campaign also will be launched, with a much larger goal.
“In our upcoming capital campaign, still in the planning stages, our focus will be on substantially increasing financial aid funds for students and endowed chairs for faculty, while growing the endowment overall,” she said. “Our friends and benefactors stand ready to help us, and I am confident that we will be successful.”
Reviewing the new U.S. News & World Report rankings of national research universities, President Jackson noted that while the overall score for the Institute increased Rensselaer is now ranked 50th only two points on the 0-to-100 scale separate the Institute from those ranked 42nd.
“Our primary interest is to use those metrics to maintain a sharp focus on enhancing the quality of education we provide, and on elevating the overall student experience at Rensselaer,” she said. “The ranking underscores our need and intent to accelerate our efforts to build the strength and numbers of the faculty, and to continue to invest in programs to enhance the richness of student life inside and outside the classroom.
“But U.S. News rankings are not the only measure of success. We use a number of media-related measures, but internal and external benchmarks, and, importantly, professional society recognitions of our faculty also help us to measure our progress and our impact. We look forward to continuing the growth and transformation of Rensselaer, and we are proud that we remain a leading and impactful, globally focused research university for this nation, and for the world.”
President Jackson reviewed a number of recent accomplishments of faculty members in the research arena, as well as student and staff achievements. She noted that the strength of the incoming freshman classes continues to accelerate. The Class of 2015, for example, has an average SAT score of 1366 up 46 points from 2005, and up 84 points from 2000. In addition, 64 percent of students enrolled in the Class of 2015 were in the top 10 percent of their high school class. Applications also continue to increase rapidly, as does selectivity, she said.
“Success never has come easily, and much that we wish to do will demand renewed commitment and true collaboration,” President Jackson said. “But the potential that we see realized daily on our campuses, both in the lab and in the classroom, demonstrates the promise of achievement for those who have the confidence to match their talents to the challenges we face.”
In closing, President Jackson issued a renewed call for engagement between all aspects of the university.
“All that we have accomplished as a university is dependent upon engagement,” she said. “We must understand and appreciate what is needed. We must negotiate, persuade, and cooperate. And, ultimately, engagement means sharing moments, experiences, burdens, and hopes. Such engagement shapes our success in addressing ‘the common purposes of life.’ It is what pulls us, inexorably, into the endeavors that will change the world.
“You know, education, by definition, is change. Education changes lives, and changes societies. It is challenge and hard work for great rewards. It is compelling because, ultimately, education is the choice