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President Bienen Highlights Key Issues, Projects

March 1, 2007
Following is the complete text of President Henry S. Bienen's State of the University address, delivered March 1, 2007.

Thank you for the introduction and thanks to NUSAC for sponsoring this opportunity to talk with the Northwestern community each year. This is the first time we’ve had this event in the McCormick Tribune Forum, so I’d like to extend my appreciation to Medill for hosting us.

As it has been for the past few years, the speech is being webcast and NUSAC has set up an e-mail for people to send in questions. I anticipate that there will be questions so I’ll speak relatively briefly in order to leave time to answer them.

I’ve been traveling quite a bit recently, talking to alumni and other supporters of the University. It’s occasionally a bit hectic, but I enjoy doing it because Northwestern has a great story to tell – terrific students, remarkable faculty achievements, excellent administrative support and an ever-strengthening university. In my talks, I often can highlight only a few of those people, just as is the case today. I am, however, keenly aware of the excellent work done by all of our faculty, as well as our dedicated administrative and support staff, who make possible our teaching and research efforts. All of you are critical to the continued success of our endeavor and I appreciate your continued good work.

I’m pleased to report that Northwestern is in excellent shape, both academically and financially. I’ll talk first about academic matters.

As many of you know, we recently announced that the Kellogg School of Management will offer two certificate programs for undergraduates, one in financial economics starting this fall and one in managerial analytics starting in 2008. These programs will provide a strong foundation as well as advanced study in key areas of finance and management to Northwestern undergraduates who are considering a career in business. I’m very pleased that we will be able to offer these innovative programs and I commend the work of the faculty and administrators in Kellogg, the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, and the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science for their cooperative efforts in creating this program and developing the courses. I think it will be a great addition to our undergraduate curriculum and help us attract top students who are interested in these fields.

There also has been significant change in Medill. The entire Medill faculty spent 20 hours a week last spring in intensive courses for faculty that brought in academic and professional leaders in the field from around the world. Twelve faculty teams at Medill have spent the fall working on the new curriculum, which is now in the process of being developed.

In addition, the Kaplan Freshman Humanities program will offer a new set of interdisciplinary courses during freshman year, including team-taught courses. The program will start next fall as a four-course sequence of seminars and lectures under the rubric of “The Good Society.” Faculty and students from both WCAS and School of Communication will be invited to participate. We are grateful to Morris Kaplan and Dolores Kohl Kaplan for their continuing support of the humanities at Northwestern and for their recent gift to help establish this innovative program.

We’ve also had some very interesting talks with educational leaders overseas about the possibility of establishing some new Northwestern programs abroad. While these discussions have advanced beyond the preliminary stages, they still are not finalized, so I will hold off on saying anything more, other than to note that they provide some exciting possibilities for extending Northwestern’s offerings in some key areas.

There also are physical signs of change as we develop and strengthen our facilities to support our educational programs. We will begin construction this spring on the new Molecular Therapeutics and Diagnostics Building, just south of the Evanston Northwestern Healthcare-Pancoe Life Sciences Pavilion. The new facility, which we expect to be ready for occupancy in Fall 2009, will house researchers from both Weinberg and McCormick and will include a state-of-the-art imaging center on the first floor. In accordance with our policy of using sustainable design for our new buildings, the Molecular Therapeutics and Diagnostics Building has been designed as a green building and we expect to obtain LEED's certification as a “silver" building, as we did with the recently constructed Ford Center.

The building will be named Richard and Barbara Silverman Hall for Molecular Therapeutics and Diagnostics. This is an extraordinary story. Rick, the John Evans Professor of Chemistry and the discoverer of Lyrica, has designated a portion of the royalties he receives to Northwestern to help fund construction of the new building. Rick is a superb teacher, scholar, inventor and researcher. It gladdens me to have this naming opportunity for Rick and Barbara.

The renovation of Annie May Swift Hall also should begin this spring and be completed next year. The renovation will include a complete upgrade of all the mechanical, electrical, plumbing and architectural systems in the building. A new theater facility will be provided in order to provide additional space for teaching and there will be new space for graduate students.

As we announced last fall, we will convert the northeast recreation field on the lakefront to an artificial turf field for varsity and club sports and intramurals. The existing soccer field will then become a parking lot. The project also includes the expansion of the Cook Hall parking lot for a total net gain of 400 parking spaces in that area. The plan is to have everything complete for fall quarter 2007, but there are regulatory review processes that we have to go through that could delay our schedule.

The renovation and expansion of the Searle Student Health Center is in design and we expect to go to bid this year. The project will provide a new reception/intake area, new waiting areas, expanded number of doctors' offices and treatment rooms, an expanded pharmacy, additional space for Counseling and Psychological Services and the relocation of the Life Skills Center into expanded space.

We’ve also established a Housing Advisory Committee that is studying our needs for student housing on the Evanston campus in the future. At the same time, our food service is engaged in an evaluation and planning process to complement the housing study. The information gathered in these two studies will guide us as we develop plans for our residence halls and dining halls in the future.

On the Chicago campus, the renovation of Wieboldt Hall for the School of Continuing Studies is under way. This includes a new gateway space for SCS on the first floor, renovated classrooms, new windows and upgraded building systems.

Construction is under way on the buildout of the ninth floor of the Robert H. Lurie Medical Research Center and design is beginning for the buildout of the 10th floor, which will be bid later this year. When the 10th floor is done, it will complete the fit-out of the entire Lurie Research Center. We are grateful to the State of Illinois for its support of this project.

Renovation of the eighth floor of the Rubloff Building for offices for the Law School was just completed and the design of new classrooms on the first floor is under way.

And I must mention the extraordinarily successful renovation of first floor space in Norris for a Starbucks coffee shop and new lounge that opened in January. Anyone who has been over there, at almost any time of day, can attest to the fact that it is a phenomenally successful project that is very popular with our students.

Let me speak briefly about admissions. We have had an extraordinary year in undergraduate admissions. For the second straight year we received a record number of freshman applications for admission for the class of 2011. We received nearly 22,000 applications, an 18 percent increase from a year ago. Last year's 13 percent increase was the second highest among the 18 COFHE universities and our admissions staff believes that this year's performance may lead all COFHE universities. In addition, the applicant pool is qualitatively stronger than last year. The mean SAT score of freshman accepted thus far is 1463, nineteen points higher than last year. My thanks to the admissions staff on a job well done.

Admissions and other areas also are strong in our professional schools.  At Kellogg, applications and quality for the incoming classes of MBA students are up from last year. Also, as a complement to the Kellogg School’s renowned evening part-time MBA program, Kellogg is adding a Saturday part-time MBA option, beginning this June. The Saturday MBA Program will incorporate all the strengths of the Kellogg School’s other MBA programs, but the Saturday program is designed to meet the needs of working professionals who live beyond the Chicago area or who have careers that require significant weekday travel.

At the Law School, despite an 11 percent decline in law school applications nationwide, applications to Northwestern Law are down only about 6 percent this year and the quality of applicants remains as strong as ever. The Law School had a banner year for clerkship placements. When the U.S. Supreme Court term opens next fall, three recent Northwestern Law graduates will serve as clerks for U.S. Supreme Court justices. As a result, one-third of the U.S. Supreme Court justices will have a Northwestern Law alumna as a clerk, which is a remarkable accomplishment.

In Feinberg, last fall's entering class was strongly qualified with an average undergraduate science GPA of 3.65 and combined mean MCAT score of 33.6.  Those scores continue to well exceed national means. Also, fiscal year 2006 was the best year that Feinberg has ever had in fundraising, with more than $100 million in donations.

The School of Continuing Studies launched three new distance-learning programs in fall 2006. SCS now offers an online master's degree in medical informatics with Feinberg; a blended learning accelerated undergraduate degree in Leadership and Organization Behavior with Weinberg; and an online noncredit certificate in Futures and Options offered in partnership with the Chicago Board of Trade. With these initiatives, SCS will help the University gain experience with distance learning pedagogies and evaluate their impact on student learning. SCS hopes to partner with other Northwestern schools and departments that wish to increase access to their current programs or courses through distance education.

I think it’s important to note that in all of our admissions efforts and in our recruitment of faculty and staff, Northwestern remains committed to bringing together a diverse group of individuals. Many of you are undoubtedly aware of the ballot initiative that passed in Michigan last November and subsequent court decisions that constrain public universities in that state from considering race as a factor in admissions. In addition, a recent court decision there ruled that the public universities could not provide benefits for same-sex partners of faculty and staff. I don’t know enough about the individual cases to comment on the rulings, but I want to emphasize that Northwestern will continue our efforts to attract and retain a diverse community of students, faculty and staff. As part of that, we are also increasing our efforts to attract undergraduate students from lower-income households by reducing or eliminating the loan component of their financial aid package as much as we can and replacing those loans with additional grants.

Focusing briefly on our research enterprise, Northwestern's emphasis on multidisciplinary research and education programs positions us to make critical contributions to society. To magnify this impact, we are joining with regional peer institutions to attack some of the world's most difficult problems using our combined intellectual resources and research facilities – such as:

- A new collaborative initiative in global energy and environmental strategy with local universities, industries and Argonne National Laboratory.

- A new relationship that gives us a role in managing Argonne and the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, including having Brad Moore, our vice president for research, and me on the Argonne board of directors. This closer relationship should provide even more opportunities to work together with lab researchers and utilize lab facilities.

- The award from the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust to the Chicago Biomedical Consortium $5 million, the first of a planned five-year donation of $5 million per year for a total of $25 million.

Some of the exciting things happening in research this year include:

- A discovery by Jonathan Widom and the BMBCB group of unanticipated ways in which higher levels of information exist in the genetic code.

- Groundbreaking work by Tobin Marks in chemistry, who is leading a group that is producing transparent, high-performance transistors that can be assembled inexpensively on both glass and plastics.

- The creation of two new interdisciplinary university research centers: the Center for Technology and Social Behavior directed by Justine Cassell; and the Spatial Intelligence and Learning Center directed by Dedre Gentner.

- Teresa Woodruff’s newly created Division of Fertility Preservation in Feinberg.

- Luis Amaral of McCormick’s award by the W. M. Keck Foundation as a Distinguished Young Scholar in Medical Research.

- McCormick professor Mark Hersam’s 2005 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

Our research awards for the past year remained essentially the same as last year’s, growing just 0.8 percent to $383.8 million.  Federal support dropped 5 percent, a reflection of shrinking federal research budgets. Our creative research faculty filled the gap, though, with an increase of nearly 20 percent in funding from private and State of Illinois sources. We anticipate that times will remain tight for the next few years while the federal government wrestles with the deficit. So far, however, our research funding has been up since September.

In addition to their research work, our faculty members have also received significant recognition in the past year. Among those are:

- Jennifer Richeson, associate professor of psychology, was named as one of 25 MacArthur Fellows for 2006. 

- Brian Hoffman, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, molecular biology and cell biology, was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

- Surendra P. Shah, Walter P. Murphy Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, was elected to the National Academy of Engineering.

- Four Northwestern faculty members were elected Fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences: Darlene Clark Hine, Board of Trustees Professor of African American Studies and History; Richard Kiekhefer, John Evans Professor in Religion; Richard Kraut, Charles E. and Emma H. Morrison Professor in the Humanities; and Lee Epstein, Beatrice Kuhn Professor of Law and Professor of Political Science. Abraham Nitzan, professor of chemistry at Tel Aviv University, Israel, who is a visiting professor in chemistry, also received that honor.

Also in the past year our students or recent graduates have received 21 Fulbright awards and we had 19 National Science Foundation winners across a range of disciplines. I’d also like to recognize four students who received major honors:

- Nicole Ripley, a theatre major who graduated last year, who received a Luce Scholarship.

- Andrew Moses Lee, a senior with majors in the Integrated Sciences Program, Biological Sciences and Math, who received a Goldwater Fellowship.

- David Rubenstein, a senior history major, who received a Truman Scholarship.

- Aaron Lee, a senior math and physics major, was named to the USA Today All-USA College Academic Team, third team.

On the athletics side, our teams enjoyed some great successes. The women’s lacrosse team captured its second consecutive national title; the softball team finished second in the NCAA tournament; our women’s tennis doubles team of Cristelle Grier and Alexis Prousis took the NCAA title; and swimmer Matt Grevers won his second NCAA title. All told, 11 teams made NCAA postseason appearances and for the second year in a row. Northwestern finished in the top 30 universities in the country in the NACDA's Directors' Cup standing, which measures overall athletic success.

We also suffered a great loss with the sudden death of Randy Walker, our highly regarded football coach, and a good friend. In the coming years, we will continue to build on the foundation he established.

Among our staff, the 2006 Employee of the Year winners were Sabin Gurung of the Kellogg School of Management on the Evanston campus and Eleni Garbes of the Feinberg School of Medicine on the Chicago campus.

We also had 63 Service Excellence Award winners this year, including four who received two awards. Those four were: Heidi Levin, Office of Research; Robert Lilly, University Services; Carl Spencer, Facilities Management; and Anitra Young, Human Resources. Many other members of our faculty and staff have also been helpful in a variety of ways.

As you know, we inaugurated new health care plans at the start of 2007.  We especially appreciate the involvement of administrators throughout the university who worked on this effort, which resulted in 99 percent of the faculty and staff re-enrolling through our new on-line system. In the aggregate, faculty and staff members are saving $1 million in health care premiums this year, with a corresponding savings in the University's share of the premiums.

Credit also should go to Guy Miller, our associate vice president for human resources, for his leadership in shepherding this major project to a successful completion. Guy will step down over the summer after 15 years of service to the University. Guy, thanks to you for all your good work on this and many other projects.

Another important transition will take place this summer when Lew Landsberg will retire as dean of the Feinberg School of Medicine and Larry Jameson, chair of the department of medicine, will assume the post. I cannot speak too highly of the job that Lew has done as dean of Feinberg since he took on the post in 1999. He has been an exceptionally effective leader for the medical school, establishing a vision for Feinberg, hiring outstanding faculty to pursue that vision and significantly improving relationships with its affiliated hospitals. Feinberg and its affiliated hospitals are becoming one of the truly great medical centers in the country, and much of the credit for that goes to Lew.

A group of our medical affiliates, led by Northwestern Memorial Hospital, are making a generous gift to name the deanship of Feinberg in honor of Lew Landsberg. This is a very special acknowledgement of all that Lew has done for the school during his tenure. 

I promised I also would report on financial matters, but in the interest of time, I will keep this quite brief. Northwestern is in excellent financial health, thanks to prudent budget management, outstanding investment strategies and record-breaking success in our fundraising efforts. Our budgets are balanced, due in part to a growing endowment that provides critical budget support. Last year our endowment had a return on investment of approximately 17 percent. As a result, Northwestern now has the 12th largest university endowment in the country – that’s up from 15th in 1996. Kudos, and my personal thanks, to Will McLean, vice president for investments, and to his staff for their excellent work.

Our endowment also grew because we had a record-breaking year in our development efforts, raising a total of $254 million in cash and an additional $189 million in new commitments.  Generous gifts from Patrick and Shirley Ryan are enabling us to initiate the program of no loans for lower-income undergraduate students that I mentioned earlier, as well as graduate fellowships in the sciences.

One of our alumni, Roberta Bialek Buffett, has endowed the Center for International and Comparative Studies. And as I mentioned earlier, Morris and Dolores Kohl Kaplan have made a series of gifts that will expand our Humanities Institute with a freshman scholars program. Dan and Susan Jones also have made a generous commitment to endow the head football coach position as part of our successful Athletics Initiative.

In addition, Gordon and Carol Segal have endowed a new Design Center in McCormick. And Deborah and Larry Brady have established a new program for undergraduates in the humanities focusing on leadership and ethics in world issues. These are just a few examples of the support provided to us by our many dedicated alumni.

Of course, an important reason for our good financial health is that our enrollments continue to be strong. At all levels – undergraduate, graduate and professional – we provide an outstanding education to our students, and it’s clear that a Northwestern degree is highly valued. That’s a testament to the excellence of our faculty, the track record of success by our students and alumni, and the dedicated support of our staff. As president, I’m proud to add my efforts to yours in making this great institution even better.

Thank you. I will now be glad to answer questions.

Topics: University News