A Letter to the Faculty from President Robert Brown

Oct 18 , 2007

Dear Colleagues,

I hope the beginning of the fall semester has been a productive and positive time for you. As we look forward to the rest of the academic year, I would like to bring you up to date on a number of issues and projects. The construction projects underway in Kenmore Square, along Commonwealth Avenue, and at the Student Village are only the most visible aspects of a very dynamic environment on campus, one that is full of promise for continuing growth and improvement. This letter is meant to convey the progress that we are making on many fronts, each aimed at making Boston University a better institution.

Below are highlights of several important topics:

  • University Planning
  • Student Recruitment
  • Faculty Recruitment
  • Leadership Appointments and Transitions
  • Academic Developments
  • Faculty Awards and Honors
  • Finances and Budgeting
  • Capital Planning and Projects
  • Faculty Development

University Planning

The strategic planning process that we began in the fall of 2005 concluded last spring with the skeleton of our Strategic Plan Choosing to be Great, which I presented at a special meeting of the Faculty Assembly last May. The presentation from this meeting is available at www.bu.edu/president.

This fall, our Plan has been translated into action through a financial blueprint that calls for $1.8 billion of additional investments over the next decade focused on the eight goals outlined in the Plan. This blueprint has been endorsed by our Board of Trustees and, by the end of the next decade, we will be deploying an additional $200 million annually with the objective of making Boston University a great private, urban, research university. In the last months, we also used the presentation format of the Plan to create a written document, including an overview of the financial plan. The draft of this document is now available on my website. I hope that you will take the time to read it.

Most importantly, the funding model of the Plan is not a hollow dream. We will see our way to fund almost 60 percent of the plan (58 percent by our current estimate) from operations, using the same budgetary discipline that Boston University has used to raise itself into the top league of major research universities. We already have begun focusing our resources on our goals in our budgeting and capital planning for this year and next.

We also are committed to drastically increasing our fundraising from alumni, friends, and foundations to raise the remainder of the funding that is needed. I will speak below about our progress on this goal.

Student Recruitment

Our freshman class of 4,174 students was drawn from an applicant pool of 33,930, our largest ever. They come from 54 foreign countries and 49 states, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam. With an average high school GPA of 3.5 and SAT scores of 1902, they are an outstanding collection of promising and talented young people. I trust that those of you who are teaching members of this class are finding them to be eager and ambitious, and I am sure you will do all that you can to help them succeed in their first year of college.

On the graduate level, a number of schools report some very encouraging news. Here are some examples. Of the 168 new students at the School of Medicine, 54 followed one of several special pathways to the MD degree, including the Early Medical School Selection Program, the Seven-Year BA/MD Program, and similar opportunities that are offered. The 114 students newly admitted to the four-year MD program were selected from a pool of more than 11,000 applicants; 53 percent are women and 23 percent are under-represented minorities. The School of Management shows continuing growth in the size and quality of entering MBA students. This year’s full-time MBA cohort includes 159 students, compared to 145 last year and 137 the year before. At the School of Law, we have admitted 278 students out of a pool of some 6,000 applicants, with a median LSAT score in the 92-93 percentile range. The Goldman School of Dental Medicine received more applicants for its four-year DMD program, 4,343, than any other dental school in the country, resulting in an entering class of 115, along with 75 students admitted to the two-year Advanced Standing DMD program.

Faculty Recruitment

We began the new academic year with 125 new faculty members at the assistant, associate, and full professor ranks. On the Charles River Campus, there are 69 new faculty, and 56 on the Medical Campus. I continue to be deeply impressed by the quality of scholars and educators that we are able to attract to the University. James E. Fleming and Linda C. McClain came from Fordham and Hofstra, respectively, to join our School of Law, and Larry Epstein, a major contributor to the fields of economic theory and mathematical finance, has joined our Economics Department; they are just three examples of the quality of scholars who have joined us this year.

Also, the School of Medicine has begun the process of further developing the team that will lead the National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratory, or NEIDL, under the overall direction of Mark Klempner, the Associate Provost for Research at the Medical Campus. Dr. Thomas Geisbert has joined us as Professor of Microbiology in the School of Medicine and as Associate Director of the NEIDL and Director of the laboratory’s Specimen Core Processing Laboratory. He comes to BU from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a BSL-4 laboratory, where he was Associate Director for high containment. His wife, Joan Geisbert, will begin in February as Associate Director of the Specimen Core Processing Laboratory and as Associate Director of the NEIDL Training Simulator. Currently, she is a senior biological science laboratory technician at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. We also have recruited Dr. Elke Mühlberger, an internationally respected virologist, from the University of Marburg, in Germany, as an Associate Professor of Microbiology in the School of Medicine and as Associate Director of the Biomolecular Production Core Laboratory of the NEIDL. Finally, we have recruited Dr. Horacio Frydman as a member of the Department of Biology in the College of Arts and Sciences and a member of the NEIDL research faculty. Dr. Frydman is an expert in host/pathogen interaction at the molecular, cellular, and organism levels. From these appointments, it is clear that we are well on our way to becoming one of the world’s great centers for infectious disease research.

These are just a few of our outstanding new appointments, and I am very grateful to the faculty, staff, and deans who have made our recruiting efforts so successful.

Leadership Appointments and Transitions

During this past summer we welcomed Virginia Sapiro, a political scientist and women’s studies scholar, as Dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Dean Sapiro had served as Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning and as Interim Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at the University of Wisconsin in Madison before coming to BU. An outstanding teacher and mentor, she brings a great breadth of administrative and academic experience to her new post as head of our largest college.

Physicist Andrei Ruckenstein came from Rutgers University to Boston University in June as Associate Provost and Vice President for Research. He is working to strengthen existing ties, and create new ones, between the Charles River and Medical campuses, and to broaden the scope of interdisciplinary efforts across a wide range of fields. Societal problems concerning health, education, or the environment, for example, will benefit from the combined efforts of social scientists, humanists, scientists, and engineers, and Andrei is exploring how we might more effectively target these and other complex issues through our research and scholarship.

More recently, Professor Victor Coelho, Chair of the College of Fine Arts Musicology Department and the College of Arts and Sciences Music Department, was named to the new position of Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education. The decision to create this position underscores our commitment to undergraduate teaching as central to our mission.

Our administrative leadership also has been strengthened by several key appointments. Martin J. Howard has just been promoted to Treasurer and Vice President for Financial Affairs, following the retirement of Kenneth Condon. With more than 20 years of experience at BU, Marty has demonstrated exceptional skill and insight in the management of our financial matters. He is joined by Pamela Peedin, who was appointed to the new post of Chief Investment Officer. She came to us last May from Cambridge Associates LLC, where she worked with clients from a number of related fields, including higher education, cultural organizations, foundations, and independent schools, advising them on such issues as asset allocation strategy and investment program evaluation. Now that our endowment exceeds $1 billion, it is particularly important that we carefully allocate and monitor our investments; the endowment will become increasingly important for the funding of core programs.

As you know, we have a number of open dean positions, and searches are underway, at varying stages, for the College of Communication, the School of Education, the School of Theology, and the School of Social Work. I would like to thank Deans ad interim Tobe Berkowitz, Charles Glenn, Ray Hart, and Gail Steketee for their service in taking on their administrative responsibilities. I would also like to thank Dean Spencer Frankl of the Goldman School of Dental Medicine for his outstanding service and leadership. Spencer, who is the longest-serving dean of any American dental school and the longest-serving dean in the history of this university, has announced that he will retire by the end of the current academic year and a search has been launched for his replacement. He will be greatly missed.

Academic Developments

Several important academic initiatives are underway within the University.
I am sure you are aware of our decision this past summer to disband the University Professors Program, based on the work of an ad hoc faculty committee that studied the issue. We also have accepted the committee’s recommendation that we develop in its place a University-wide honors program that will provide rigorous academic programming and opportunities for interdisciplinary study for our very best students, irrespective of their school or college. We will maintain UNI over the next several years in order to meet our obligations to current students, and Sir Hans Kornberg has once again accepted the directorship of the program. Meanwhile, Professor Charles Dellheim, chair of the History Department, is leading a committee formed to propose the structure of the new University-wide honors program; please see the BU Today article for details. I am optimistic that the committee will develop an exciting new program.

One of the recommendations from the ad hoc committee that examined UNI was that we create a mechanism for honoring faculty across the University; they proposed an honorific faculty rank that would be given to a very select number of our most distinguished faculty. I have asked the Executive Committee of the Faculty Council, led by Chair Julie Sandell, to consider the committee’s report and to recommend a process for making such appointments from within our faculty. We expect to bring this topic to the faculty for discussion by the spring.

With the appointment of Victor Coehlo as the new Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education, we are now ready to begin discussions of how best to integrate our commitment to liberal arts and science education with the high-quality professional programs in which more than half our students major. I hope this will be an open and vigorous debate because our excellence and uniqueness in this blend of educational philosophies is key to the greatness of the University.

Boston University also is investing in key interdisciplinary research initiatives. Under the leadership of Dr. Howard Eichenbaum, Professor of Psychology, we will launch the new Center for Neuroscience, an interdisciplinary research center spanning the Charles River and Medical campuses. This center will advance cutting-edge interdisciplinary, collaborative research and education on the neural basis of behavior and cognition, while pursuing experimental and theoretical-computational approaches that span molecular, cellular, systems, behavioral, and cognitive levels of analysis. The Center’s activities will be coordinated by an Executive Committee chaired by Professor Eichenbaum and composed of faculty from both the Charles River and Medical campuses. This new initiative will report to the Associate Provost and Vice President for Research, who will be advised by a Council of Deans representing CAS, ENG, and MED, and an External Advisory Committee composed of national leaders in the field. More on this initiative will be forthcoming soon.

Boston University’s international footprint continues to grow, in keeping with the recommendations of the report of the Task Force on Boston University and the Global Future in fall 2006 (see www.bu.edu/globalfuture/). First, the Dental School has agreed to develop both an institute for graduate education and a dental care facility in a new regional medical complex in Dubai. Boston University was selected out of a pool of some 20 candidates as the partner with the new Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC) in this endeavor. The BU Institute for Dental Research and Education and the BU Dental Health Center will begin operating in DHCC next summer. Dr. Thomas Kilgore, Associate Dean of Advanced Education for the BUSDM, will serve as the Institute’s chief academic officer and oversee the Dental Health Center. Initially, he will be joined by about a dozen faculty members; it is expected that the faculty size will double as the facilities become fully operational. Senior faculty will visit the DHCC campus to teach and provide clinical demonstrations.

Our nationally renowned Study Abroad program is adding three new sites in Asia, as part of our strategy of having a greater presence in this exciting part of the world. The first to open is a year-long program at Keio University in Tokyo this semester, and the other two will commence during the spring semester, one at the National University of Singapore and the other at Fudan University in Shanghai. Our Study Abroad office already administers programs in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and at nearly 30 international sites. These programs are thriving, especially the program in Los Angeles, which is home to nearly 70 students this semester and will soon be moving into new classroom and office facilities on Wilshire Boulevard.

Faculty Awards and Honors

Members of our faculty continue to receive numerous honors and awards, and are taking on important professional posts. Notably, President Emeritus Aram Chobanian and Professor Ha Jin of the English Department and the Creative Writing Program were elected to membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Two leadership positions are of particular note: Allison Blakely, a Professor in the History Department and the African American Studies Program, was elected president of Phi Beta Kappa. Jeffrey Hutter, Senior Associate Dean at the Dental School, has been elected to a four-year term as chair of the Commission on Dental Accreditation, the major accrediting body for all dental programs in the United States.

There are several faculty awards that I would like to highlight. First, James Collins, a Professor of Biomedical Engineering and University Professor, has been recognized for his outstanding contributions to biomedical science by a Pioneer Award from the National Institutes of Health. This award gives Jim research support for five years with the freedom to lead his research along new and innovative paths. Our colleague, Professor Bahaa Saleh of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, was awarded the 2007 Kuwait Prize in Basic Science by the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences for his contributions in optical science. Additionally, three of our faculty members in the Department of English were awarded prestigious fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies: they are professors William Carroll, Maurice Lee, and James Winn.

In May, Boston University recognized three members of our faculty for their excellence in teaching. Jeffrey Beatty, an Associate Professor in the School of Management, was awarded this year’s Metcalf Cup and Prize for Excellence in Teaching. He was joined by Penelope Bitzas of the College of Fine Arts and Eric Widmaier of the Biology Department, who won Metcalf Awards for Excellence in Teaching.

Finally, thanks to a generous donation from alumnus and Trustee Peter Paul, we presented Peter Paul Career Development Professorships to three junior members of our faculty: assistant professors Carrie Preston of the College of Arts and Sciences, Hatice Altug of the College of Engineering, and Kristin Collins of the School of Law. This is the second year in which we have been able to support exceptional young members of the faculty with this special award, which was created to help further their research and scholarship during the early stages of their careers.

In the 2007 issue of Research at Boston University, which has just been published, we list more than 100 faculty members who have received notable honors in the past year. If you haven’t seen a copy yet, this publication is available online at www.bu.edu/research/magazine.

Finances and Budgeting

The finances of the University are always a critical topic at this time of year. The process for developing the budget for Fiscal Year 2009 has begun with letters to the Schools, Colleges and administrative units that define the parameters for budget submissions. We begin this process from a solid foundation built on the good news of the Fiscal Year 2007 results (the year we just concluded). During that year, thanks to the efficiency and dedication of our faculty and staff, operating units met, and often exceeded, their financial goals. As a result, the University’s final operating account balance of $96.8 million, out of a total budget of $1.76 billion, became available to fund academic initiatives and renovation, renewal and expansion of our physical facilities. The increase in the size of this balance results from the confluence of many factors, including meeting our enrollment targets in our undergraduate and graduate programs, great performance from our investments, and an increased focus on the critical missions of the university that led us to eliminate several non-core activities which were adversely affecting our budget.

Of the $96.8 million account balance, $28.2 million was allocated directly to Schools and Colleges and to fund academic initiatives: the remainder, $68.6 million, was allocated to renovation and renewal of our physical plant. From this total, funding was allocated for several significant initiatives, such as the University’s contributions to renovations at 855 Commonwealth Avenue for the College of Fine Arts, renovations for the College of Arts and Science, and the School of Law, and the dining facility in the Towers residence hall on Bay State Road.

Not every budgetary indication was positive: energy costs continued to increase at double-digit rates; mitigating future increases will be a major focus of our activities going forward. The cost of debt also rose with the increasing interest rate environment.

Perhaps most worrisome, sponsored research funding fell $9.7 million last year, from $312,073,984 in Fiscal 2006 to $302,404,078. There were small decreases in grants from almost all funding groups, coupled with a nearly $13 million fall-off from Health and Human Services (HHS), from $196,400,824 to $183,499,714. A few agencies, including NASA and the federal Departments of Education and Energy, registered small increases, and there was a significant increase from the Department of Defense, from $7,550,647 to $16,852,471. Perhaps in recognition of a changing funding environment, there was a small drop in the number of grant applications, from 2,303 in Fiscal 2006 to 2,268 last year, as well as a drop in the number of awards, from 1,647 to 1,519. The tightness of external research support is being felt all across the University, but more so on the Medical Campus. We expect the constraints on discretionary spending in the federal government to continue to adversely affect support for sponsored research for several years.

In contrast, we have had success with our investments. Our endowment assets grew to $1.1 billion at the end of FY2007 on a remarkable net return of 20.5 percent; this return places us approximately in the upper quarter of our peer institutions.

Fiscal Year 2008 is underway with a budget that has grown by 2.8 percent overall to $1.81 billion. This includes $30.3 million of funding for our instruction and research budget, including a much-needed increase of $6.1 million in the annual budget for the College of Arts and Sciences. We are beginning the budget process for Fiscal Year 2009 with over $7 million of new funding for academic initiatives (in addition to faculty and staff raise pools) that support our Strategic Plan. As is always the case, our budget is tight and in order to commit this funding in support of the objectives of the Strategic Plan, we will have to preserve the budget discipline that has been a hallmark of the University.

As we go forward, effective activities in the Development and Alumni Relations (DAR) office will be key to the future of Boston University. The past year has been focused on making internal changes in DAR’s organization that have streamlined and professionalized their operations; they have begun the process of gearing up efforts with the goal of a dramatic increase in annual effectiveness. Even as the staff of DAR focused on making these changes, they came close to matching the previous year’s donations; we raised $84.2 million in Fiscal Year 2007 compared with $84.3 million in Fiscal Year 2006. We received a dozen gifts, grants, and pledges last year that ranged from $1 million to $4.5 million, including new named Professorships through major gifts from Trustees Allen Questrom and John Smith, Jr.

In addition, DAR conducted a survey of our 258,000 alumni, which led to more than 95,000 respondents. The survey gave us many valuable insights into how to best serve our alumni, but most importantly it demonstrated how much our alumni value their Boston University education. Although there are many things we can do to improve the student experience here, it is clear that we are building on a very strong base of a rigorous, quality education.

Capital Planning and Projects

Along with the Strategic Plan, we completed the first phase of a decadal capital plan to begin renovation, renewal and expansion activities. Two new capital projects are under development on the Charles River Campus, the aforementioned renovation of the facilities for the College of Fine Arts, and a major expansion and renewal of the facilities for the School of Law. The early phases of both of these projects are ongoing with work on utilities within the buildings. On the Medical Campus, new housing for medical students also is being planned. More detail on these and other projects will be forthcoming during the year.

Two very major capital projects are moving toward completion. Our Student Village Phase II project is moving along well; the steel skeleton of this newest residence hall is clearly visible on West Campus and is on schedule for the topping-off of the building, with the installation of the last piece of steel support, before the end of this year. The building will open in the fall of 2009. The finished residence will house 960 students in apartment-style units in a 26-story tower, open to juniors and seniors, and suite-style accommodations for sophomores in a 19-story tower. We currently have 817 students living in the first residence constructed at the Student Village, and plan to provide housing for a total of 2,300 students when the third-phase of the project is completed on this site.

On the Medical Campus, construction of the National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratory (NEIDL) is proceeding on schedule, and should be completed in 2008. Currently, work on the NEIDL is focused on finishing the building exterior and installation of interior systems. I am sure that you are aware this project has generated controversy in the local community. In August, the National Institutes of Health released findings of a risk assessment study that was conducted in response to concerns that a BSL-4 laboratory would pose an undue risk for a heavily populated area. NIH engaged experts at the State University of New York at Buffalo to simulate scenarios in which an infectious disease would be released to determine what might occur in urban, suburban, and rural settings. The report concluded that, “under realistic conditions, infectious diseases would not occur in the communities as a result of an accident in the NEIDL.” We are continuing to work with the NIH and state and local officials to move the NEIDL toward an opening in the fall of 2008.

The construction effort that is the most visible (and probably most annoying, in the short run) is the Commonwealth Avenue project, under the direction of the Massachusetts Highway Department in cooperation with BU. Scheduled to be completed in late 2008, this project will significantly improve pedestrian safety by shortening the length of many crosswalks and eliminating one of the westbound travel lanes. Moreover, it will add many new trees and planters, brickwork, and other amenities that will make the section of Commonwealth Avenue look more like some of the city’s grand parkways. I am sure that once this project is completed, we will enjoy our Charles River Campus as a more elegant urban space than we ever thought possible.

Faculty Development

As our Strategic Plan clearly points out, the ability of Boston University to attract and retain the very best faculty is essential to the quality of the University. We are putting considerable emphasis on a number of developments that are key to our success. First, we continue to work to push faculty compensation upwards to be competitive with peer institutions, and we are making progress on this critical issue. Comparing fall 2007 to fall 2006, the average faculty salaries at the ranks of full, associate, and assistant professor across all Schools and Colleges on the Charles River Campus grew to $122,200, $81,700, and $69,800, respectively, with an average increase across these ranks of 4.7 percent. This average reflects the salaries of new hires, promotional increases, and merit raises given across the faculty. Much of the increase was concentrated in the assistant professor rank.

As you will hear at the Faculty Assembly Meeting on October 31, the Council on Faculty Diversity and Inclusion (CFDI) that was established last fall has worked intensely during the last year on several important topics. First, the Council has developed a manual to guide departments, Schools and Colleges on the development of good processes for conducting effective and broad faculty searches that result in highly qualified and diverse candidate pools. This manual will soon be available in PDF form at www.bu.edu/provost/cfdi and is being distributed to department chairs, deans, and chairs of faculty search committees.

Additionally, in order to help us prioritize new resources for aiding the faculty, the CFDI has developed the Faculty Work Survey, which has been designed along the lines used by other universities. All members of the faculty should have received an e-mail with a link to this survey, or you can access it at http://web.mit.edu/surveys/bu/. I urge all of you to complete it; in other institutions the response rate has hovered near 70 percent and so input from the surveys has been very useful elsewhere in setting institutional priorities. We need your participation and we will share the analysis of the survey results with you as soon as they are available.

Finally, the CFDI has drafted and is advancing a revised Family Leave Policy for the University, which should move through the University approval process this year. Although much remains to be done, this is very considerable progress by the CFDI in only a year.

Final Thoughts

Efforts to continue moving Boston University forward are made easier by the work that has already been done for us over the past generation, and more recently by the spirited cooperation and enthusiasm of so many of you in developing our Strategic Plan. I am truly grateful for your efforts and your support. The development of this plan is just a beginning; the ongoing work of choosing greatness is now well underway. I look forward to working with you to advance Boston University.

With best wishes for a successful and productive year,


Robert A. Brown