Fall General Faculty Meeting


Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D.

President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies Auditorium

2 to 4 p.m.



Thank you, Dr. (Achille) Messac for that introduction.


Good afternoon. And, greetings to our colleagues at Hartford, who are in attendance via videoconferencing. Thank you for inviting me to the Fall General Faculty Meeting. I look forward to this meeting, and to the always interesting exchange of ideas, as we work toward realizing the vision of the Institute, as embodied in The Rensselaer Plan.      


Today, I will review a few highlights of our progress, to set the stage for a high-level discussion about what we envision a top-tier university should be—and your role in it—by offering a series of questions.


Your work offers the substance and content of the ongoing Renaissance at Rensselaer. Consider the following:


·        Faculty growth continues, with 150 new faculty in nearly 75 new positions, well on our way to the goal of 100 new faculty positions.

·        The student/faculty ratio is reduced from 17:1 to 14:1. For undergraduates, the ratio is 11.3:1.

·        Institute research expenditures are at an all-time high: $69.58 million in Fiscal Year 2005; a 19 percent increase over the previous year.

·        Federal research dollar expenditures have increased by 12 percent to $50 million.

·        Rensselaer faculty continue to garner significant research awards, specifically in the areas of nanotechnology and biotechnology, and addressing vital issues including energy security and homeland security.

·        Faculty honors bring distinction to individuals and to the Institute. Five faculty members recently have been honored with the prestigious National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award, the most prestigious honor for university researchers in the beginning of their careers. Since 2000, more than 30 Rensselaer faculty members have won the CAREER award.

·        We continue to attract top-tier students. The Class of 2009 entered this fall with an average SAT score of 1320. SAT scores have risen nearly 60 points in the last six years.

·        We have invested more than $400 million in academic, research, and student life facilities. This brought us the wonderful building we are in today, as well as the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC). (I am sure you have noticed the progress that has been made on EMPAC construction in recent months. And, I hope you had the opportunity to attend the spectacular EMPAC 360 event, which drew an obviously “wowed” audience of more than 2,000 people. It truly was a memorable evening on the Troy campus.) EMPAC will continue to bring distinctive and mind-stretching programs to the Rensselaer community.

·        Under the leadership of Vice President and Dean John Minasian, the parallel transformation of Rensselaer at Hartford continues. The refocusing of the Education for Working Professional program produced a 20 percent rise in enrollment for that campus, where course offerings are being reshaped and ties to industry strengthened.  

·        We recently welcomed two new academic deans: Dr. Alan Cramb, dean of engineering; and Dr. David Gautschi, dean of the Lally School of Management and Technology.  

·        The fund-raising campaign, Renaissance at Rensselaer: The Campaign for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has raised more than $650 toward the goal of $1 billion.  

·        Finally, as testament to all these accomplishments, Rensselaer received its highest ranking ever from U.S. News & World Report: 43rd – up from 46th last year. 


            We must continue—and expand—this drive to excellence, which has undergirded the realization of the goals of The Rensselaer Plan the last five years.


Two weeks ago, I distributed a memo describing one of the key initiatives for this year: The Undergraduate Plan. This is a concerted effort, by the Institute, to realize a goal in The Rensselaer Plan: to provide an “undergraduate experience which surpasses all others.”  While a number of improvements have been made to the undergraduate experience in recent years, it is time to move to the next level, in a very focused and comprehensive way, in this fundamentally important core enterprise. The plan will complement—and strengthen—our focus on building the research program and graduate education, as research and learning are inextricably linked in great universities.


Specifically, The Undergraduate Plan will focus on the development of the following:


  1. An educational experience enriched by research and independent inquiry. This means, including undergraduates as active participants in the research enterprise, as do in other major research universities.
  2. A breadth of study that prepares students to be good global citizens within the rapidly expanding global workplace. This goal includes enhancing, and expanding, international options for students, such as study abroad program, satellite campuses at international locations, and degree programs with an international focus, to name just several ideas under consideration.
  3. Immersive learning experiences which foster close mentoring relationships between faculty and students, developed around topics reflecting institutional strengths and goals. This involves the development of living and learning communities, an initiative I have spoken of in the past year. For example, students are gathering in “theme” housing—in the arts, entrepreneurship, community service, and science fiction, to name a few areas of common interest. There are many models of living and learning arrangements—campus-based and community-based—to consider under this plan.


Of course, there are important undergirding initiatives which we must put into action to enable The Undergraduate Plan. These initiatives include the enhancement of academic programs and offerings, academic support services, and world-class instructional facilities.


Your help is essential. I have asked Dr. Prabhat Hajela, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education, to work across all portfolios to expand academic programs in targeted areas. Provost Bud Peterson is working with deans, department chairs, center directors, and faculty, to ensure that we have the capabilities to achieve our goals. And, Vice President for Student Life Eddie Ade Knowles is focusing on the student experience.  


It is extremely important to the future of this university that we raise the level of the undergraduate experience, as we prepare our students for the challenging, complex, and, in many ways, increasingly fragile world that awaits them.


When we began developing The Rensselaer Plan six years ago, we posed five questions to help to shape our work. They were as follows:


·        What defines the intellectual core in each key discipline or enterprise at Rensselaer? Is it important, and why? 

·        In these disciplines, are we in a leadership position? Do we set the standard and the agenda? 

·        If we are not in a leadership position, do we have the underlying strengths and capabilities necessary to move rapidly into a position of primacy with the proper focus and investment? 

·        Are there areas that are so vital that we must create a presence in order to stand in the community of world-class universities?

·        What areas of current endeavor must we be willing to transform—or to give up—in order to focus our resources and our energies to create the impact we envision?


These questions still are relevant. Indeed, it is important to pose, periodically, these questions to ourselves, and to each other, as we continue to fulfill the promise of the Plan.


So, today, I will begin our discussion by offering some more questions about how we can achieve further excellence in education and research, which we deeply cherish.


·        In relation to the development of the Undergraduate Plan, what elements are essential to form a truly comprehensive, engaging, and distinctive undergraduate experience?

·        How do we attract talented, promising, and diverse faculty, and enable them to fully realize their research and teaching potential?

·        How does faculty recruiting, retention, and support for research at Rensselaer compare to similar efforts at top-tier universities?

·        What are the academic and research areas in which Rensselaer can grow further—and lead?

·        How can Rensselaer have more impact in the world, and change the world, for the better?


I look forward to hearing your thoughts, your insights, and your suggestions.


Now I would be happy to entertain questions and discussion.


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