Management Conference Address

by Robert A. Brown | March 4, 2010

Thank you Peter [Fiedler], and thank you for organizing the management conference as an important component of our communications with the administrative leadership of the University. I appreciate the opportunity to speak for a few minutes this morning about some of the progress we are making at Boston University. I think it is important to remind ourselves, from time to time, of our central missions — offering the very best educational experiences for our students and advancing the University as one of the best private research universities in America — and for all of us to share in our accomplishments toward theses goals.

I want to begin by thanking everyone here and all our staff and faculty for your efforts over this year. Throughout this recession, while feeling the pressures that it has placed on the University, on our students, and on their families, I have been very proud of how the Boston University staff and faculty members have reacted. Because of your dedication and efforts, Boston University has been able to navigate the recession as well as any of us could hope. Most importantly, we have been able to continue to attract very talented students to the University and continue to make the investments that will improve our faculty and programs. And it is these efforts that will ensure that top-caliber faculty and students continue to come to Boston University and that we will continue to make progress as great private university.

Why must we make progress? Why can’t we simple be satisfied with the programs we offer, the research and scholarship we are producing, and our impact on society today? Education and research are not static endeavors. We are preparing our students to be educated citizens in an ever-changing world and to undertake professional careers that enable them to become leaders in both long-established professions and those we have not yet imagined. We are inventing new knowledge both through the continued exploration of what has come before us and by path-breaking research in science, technology, and medicine. To be leaders in education and research requires pedagogical experimentation and change and the never-ending exploration of the frontiers of our disciplines.

And we should not forget that we are competing. We are competing with other great research universities for the most brilliant and highly motivated students and faculty to perform these missions. Some might ask, how can we play in this arena? Aren’t we competing with private universities with many multiples of our endowment or with state-sponsored universities with large amounts of government funding? Yes, we are, and we are competing effectively by marshaling our resources with a focus on impacts that matter to our students and faculty. We are using the legendary efficiency and entrepreneurship of Boston University to generate funding to support the resources, facilities, and services that will make Boston University more attractive to the very best students, faculty, and staff.

This morning Joe Mercurio, Peter Smokowski, and Peter Fiedler spoke about our progress and the next steps for the BUWorks project, as we modernize our enterprise software systems. This is a critical step in making our processes more efficient and transparent. The implementation is critical; as I have said before, this is one of the largest, most complex, projects that we are undertaking, and the quality and maintainability of our implementation of BUWorks will affect the University for decades. We are off to a good start, but we need your help to ensure our success.

Sometimes we are working so hard and moving so fast that it is difficult to see the progress of the University, but it is definitely here. Let me share some highlights, from my perspective.

In some respects, it was easier to see progress last year than at any time in recent history. For example, the financial turmoil at the beginning of the year did cause us a fair measure of pain, as we restructured to reduce expenses so that we could place more emphasis on undergraduate financial aid. Even during this most difficult year, we were able to give salary increases to all but the most highly compensated individuals and to continue to hire great faculty. In fact, it was a great time to hire faculty, since many universities were not even in the market. This paid great dividends, with over 60 new faculty members joining the Charles River Campus alone, including 10 who are filling newly created positions.

Boston University continues to grow as a research university. As we do, we must recognize that we are very young as a research university. Consider the fact that in 1970, just 40 years ago, and 131 years after our founding, the total research funding for Boston University was just over $10 million; and we were on no lists of major research universities in the United States. This year, 40 years later, we will spend over $350 million dollars on sponsored research and we are among the top 25 private research universities in this country by some measures. For example, today in science and engineering we raise almost $250,000 per faculty member, ahead of some well-known research universities. This support level has moved dramatically upward over the last decade, continuing the trend that had been established over the previous two decades. In fact, since 2000 our research support has almost doubled.

We are working hard to increase the quality and intensity of research on our campus and our support for it. How?

  • By hiring the very best faculty to add to our ranks.
  • By increasing support for graduate research students.
  • By generating support within the University for important interdisciplinary research initiatives.
  • By improving facilities and systems that underpin the quality of our research.

Our efficiency and entrepreneurship translates each year into funding for these improvements. One of the most visible signs you will begin to see next fall will be the construction of a new student center on our east campus, at the corner of Bay State Road and Deerfield Street. This facility will bring together and expand a host of services for our undergraduate students, including the Educational Resource Center, Career Services, the CAS writing program, and the CAS first-year and professional advising functions, as well as a new dining facility. This center will be a very visible sign of our commitment to our students’ success and what we can accomplish by executing our strategic plan and our operating model.

In many ways, it is our role to provide infrastructure that facilitates the success of our faculty and students. They do the rest. Let me share with you some recent accomplishments of our faculty. First, as part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) of the federal government, our faculty competed very successfully for research support. Our grants and contracts from this funding totaled more than $56 million between March and December of 2009.

Also, we continue to receive many grants from other sources. Let me focus on two awards that we have received since our last meeting;

In December, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provided the Center for Global Health and Development with a grant of $8.5 million to support a four-year study into neonatal care in Zambia, in sub-Saharan Africa. The Center will recruit some 28,000 Zambian women over the next few years and train them in a simple and inexpensive way to care for their newborns using an antiseptic wash to clean the umbilical cord stump, instead of using traditional methods. Researchers expect that hundreds of lives will be saved in the near future, and this will provide evidence that should convince health-care providers in under-developed nations around the world to adopt modern methods of caring for newborns. (You can read about another wonderful program led by the Center for Global Health and Development in Kenya in the current issue of Bostonia.)

Second, we are in the final stages of gaining approval from the National Institutes of Health for a $6 million grant for the renovation of 6700 square feet of laboratory space for medicinal chemistry on the Charles River Campus. These renovations will provide us with the modern facilities needed for the study and development of complex molecules that form the basis of modern drugs, and enable researchers on the CRC to work in greater coordination with Medical Campus faculty. In turn, these collaborations will position us to more effectively compete for research grants from government and private funding sources.

We all should take pride in the accomplishments of our faculty, as it is their research and scholarship that has a very large impact on the reputation of the University.

How are these research efforts leveraged to create a more exciting educational environment for our students? Consider our effort in neuroscience. Two years ago we launched the Center for Neuroscience as an interdisciplinary center across the Charles River and Medical campuses as an effort to bring together the cadre of very talented faculty we have in this important, multidisciplinary area of science. Already, this effort has been successful at spawning new scientific collaborations. Equally as important, it has led to new educational programs. First came the Undergraduate Program in Neuroscience which today — in its first year of operation — has 180 undergraduate students, and this is expected to grow to 220 in the fall. Now we are launching a new doctoral program across both campuses, the Graduate Program for Neuroscience (GPN), which will bring together three existing programs and create a single graduate program for all our students in this field, whether in Medicine or Psychology. This is important progress for the University, as it brings together the talent across our campus to the advantage of our students. It is also an example of tireless leadership by Professor Shelley Russek of the Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics in the School of Medicine and the Director of GPN. These academic programs are great examples of “OneBU”, bringing together the strengths of faculty all across the University to innovate in research and education.

To create OneBU we have had to break down barriers. (Remember the old saying: “BU -- the first two letters in bureaucracy!”) Vice President for Research Andrei Ruckenstein and Associate Provost for Graduate Medical Sciences Linda Hyman worked to develop a new policy where doctoral students from either campus can take subjects across the boundaries without dollars moving back and forth. This sounds trivial, but it is an historic change where we put the good of our students and the potential for collaboration above the enterprise model for each academic unit. This is the first of many efforts to remove barriers and create opportunities for our students and faculty.

In fact, much of the focus of our work on improving undergraduate education has been to reduce barriers between our programs, schools, and colleges and to make it possible for all Boston University students to have a full range of educational opportunities here. Why focus on this issue? The greatest strength of Boston University as an undergraduate institution is that we offer our students both a quality general education and choices among concentrations in the College of Arts and Sciences and majors in our professional schools and colleges, such as Management, Engineering, Communication, Sargent College, and Fine Arts. Our efforts at creating “OneBU” emphasize this variety of opportunities and the steps we must take to guarantee that all our students have the tools and services needed to succeed.

Associate Provost Victor Coelho has been leading the OneBU Task Force for Undergraduate Education. The Task Force has just filed its report; it is available on the Provost’s website and I recommend it to all of you. The report recommends ways that we can invest in undergraduate education, including:

  • More fully utilizing technology in the classroom.
  • Bringing research to the forefront of undergraduate education.
  • Promoting innovation and entrepreneurism in all fields of study.
  • Improving student access to courses in the arts.
  • Promoting global awareness.

The Task Force also focused on the issue of access for all of our students to the richness and depth of the University. They propose:

  • Regularizing the standards for transferring between schools and colleges to give our students access. Today approximately 1 in 3 of our entering freshmen change from one school or college to another. We should recognize their mobility and make this a hallmark of Boston University.
  • The Task Force also recommends expanding the number and variety of service courses in our schools and colleges and providing better access to these. These subjects will help our students broaden their perspective across disciplinary borders and help them find the professions that best suit their interests.
  • To guarantee student success, we will have to make investments in advising for all our students to help them better navigate the University and its options.

These recommendations will be discussed and debated within our schools and colleges and, hopefully, will lead to changes in our curricula and our administrative processes. We already are acting on some of these recommendations.

For example, as part of our capital deployment for the coming academic year, we will make major investments to improve audio-visual technologies in our classrooms and expand wireless access in our classrooms, dining halls and residences. This is the first of what will be a stream of investments that will improve our students’ access to technology for education and communication.

This comment brings me naturally to the University’s budget. We are in the final stages of proposing a budget to our Board of Trustees for next year that will continue us on this path. The budget includes funding for continued faculty hiring on the Charles River Campus, increased funding for academic programs, and funds for supporting salary increases for staff and faculty. Several very prominent initiatives are included in the budget.

First is the project to build our Center for Student Services, which I mentioned earlier.

We also are increasing the opportunities for our students to fulfill a major part of their general education requirements. Whether directly in the College of Arts and Sciences through the divisional studies of Core Programs, or through the College of General Studies, we are committed to giving our students the breadth and depth they need to be well-educated graduates of Boston University with the skills they need to succeed in the increasingly competitive global economy.

We also are investing in new, innovative programs to meet these objectives. The University Honors College was approved by our Board of Trustees last fall. Under the leadership of Professor Charles Dellheim of the Department of History, as well as Professors Andy Cohen from Physics and Jim Schmidt from History, the University Honors College is developing a curriculum that will meet the objectives of a Boston University general education, but with a focus on research, invention, and creativity across fields, while also offering an in-depth education in a major area in either arts, sciences or the professions. The University Honors College will not offer degrees — students will matriculate and graduate from one of our existing schools and colleges — but it will offer a very different interdisciplinary lens through which our students will view their majors and their education.

In a moment Professor Dellheim will give you an overview of the University Honors College, which will take in a small, pioneering freshman class next fall.

Finally, I would like to conclude with the hope that my remarks and my focus on some of the developments underway at Boston University give you renewed pride in your University and a sense that we are moving forward.

Thank you.