Johnson: ‘Now it is time to move forward’

9/26/2011 - By: John Trent
Serra, Johnson, and Green Students Leslie Anne Serra and Jarell Green pose with president Mark Johnson.

Calling on the University of Nevada, Reno to be more entrepreneurial, to seek key industry partnerships in the face of projected flat state funding and to continue to produce record levels of graduates for a more diversified Nevada state economy, University President Marc Johnson shared his vision for the University during his "State of the University" address on Monday.

Johnson told the assembled crowd in the Joe Crowley Student Union ballroom that the University had just experienced an historic year, "full of institutional milestones," including the University's most graduates, highest enrollment, best retention rates, most accomplished and diverse student body  and record faculty and staff productivity levels.

At the same, however, Johnson said the University cannot afford to stand still.

"Now, it is time to move forward, to focus again on building individual, departmental and university reputations for service to our students, our professions, and our communities," Johnson said. He added, "We will have the opportunity in the next four years to determine how to grow our programs on our own initiative, not expecting significant additional state funds. Emphasizing and deepening our significant, cross-college strengths, will allow the University to grow student numbers, research funding, and reputation, and serve the state of Nevada admirably."

Johnson praised the effort of the University community in the face of state-mandated budget reductions that have totaled $75 million since 2009, have cost the University more than 600 budgeted positions and have led to the downsizing or elimination of several degrees and programs.

"It's been a time of great challenge for our campus," Johnson said, noting that throughout the budget reductions, he had been impressed with the University's ability to "re-invent what we do and how we do it." He said the actions of faculty, staff and students in the past year had "mirrored our institution's core values in the best possible way."

"Your actions over the past few months have truly honored the memory of our good friend and late University President, Milt Glick," Johnson said, remembering the University's 15th chief executive, who passed away in April at age 73.

Johnson cited several milestones to illustrate the University's successes over the past year, including:

For the second year in a row, U.S. News & World Report named the University a Tier I institution, ranking the University among the top 100 public universities in the country;

Graduation of 3,561 students last year, an institutional record;

Record enrollment this fall of more than 18,000 students, including a record 46 National Merit and 165 Presidential Scholars;

Graduation rate increases from 47 percent to nearly 53 percent in the past five years, which Johnson said, moves the University closer to the national average of 56 percent;

Faculty productivity at record levels, with research awards up 18 percent last year to more than $81 million and total awards for research, service and financial aid up 43 percent to nearly $158 million;

Ongoing capital projects with the Earthquake Engineering Laboratory expansion, the Donald W. Reynolds School of Journalism expansion, and construction of the new Living Learning Residence Hall, all which will improve key thresholds for research, teaching and the student experience at the University.

"This is a substantial list of accomplishments that we should applaud," Johnson said.

Johnson said that the coming months will be "a time to test ourselves to be creative, to form innovative partnerships and ways of thinking that will continue this move forward."

One example was the effort of the University's financial aid staff, Johnson said.

"Just this fall, with fewer people, our financial aid staff processed $48 million in financial aid packages compared with the $28 million processed last fall, an increase of 68 percent," Johnson said. "The percentage of Pell-eligible students on our campus has more than doubled in the past five years.

"And to their credit, our staff continues to meet the needs of these students."

Johnson said he could envision the campus utilizing its collective strength in several key areas, which, "through constant communication, trust and transparency, we will be able to continue the coordination needed to amplify the impact of our work."

Just as one example of how the University was moving forward in accomplishing its mission, Johnson noted the recent creation of the Office of Diversity Initiatives. Reg Stewart, who will also continue as director of the Center for Student Cultural Diversity, has been named Diversity Initiative's director.

Diversity Initiatives, Johnson said, will be part of the University's ongoing effort to "enhance fulfillment" of the institution's effort, as written in the University's Institutional Strategic Plan, to "seek ways to reflect and serve the gender, ethnic, cultural, and ability/disability diversity of the citizens of Nevada in our academic and support programs."

In addition to diversity, Johnson said the University's key goals included: preparing the best possible graduates to compete in a global environment through high-quality degree programs; creating new knowledge through basic and applied research, scholarship and artistry in strategically selected fields relevant to Nevada and the wider world; improving economic and social development by engaging Nevada's citizens, communities and governments.

"In the coming months, we will need vision and innovation, accomplishment and achievement, in all of these areas," Johnson said.

Lacking increased state funding for the next four years, Johnson said the University still has the capabilities to "change the lives of Nevadans and steer our state in a more prosperous direction."

He called the University "a productive community of the highest order," and cited six areas where the University's strengths could have an immediate impact.

The six areas included:

The University's doctoral-granting strength and balance across the arts, humanities and social and natural sciences, which ensure high-quality degree offerings;

The University's successes in enrollment, graduation and diversity;

Academic and research strength in the health sciences;

Potential for partnerships and cross-college and interdisciplinary collaboration in the environmental and earth sciences;

The University's leadership role in alignment with the Washoe County School District and Truckee Meadows Community College to "smooth the pathway from primary through college education"';

The University's key role in providing arts and culture and "livability" aspects to northern Nevada's economic diversification and development efforts.

"With expenditures of about $500 million, we provide the ultimate 'value added' through workforce development, as we continue to churn out record numbers of college-educated graduates into the Nevada workforce," Johnson said.

Johnson said the "culture of success" that has characterized the student experience on campus in recent years must continue.

He noted the stories of two students, Jarell Green, a nursing major, and Leslie Anne Serra, a graduate of the "Dean's Future Scholars" program who is now studying for her master's degree at the University.

In addition to her studies, Serra is teaching her fellow students how to become mentors in "Dean's Future Scholars," a successful, decade-long program that has encouraged at-risk Washoe County School District students to graduate from high school and aspire to attend college.

Green, a first-generation college student who has had to overcome the loss of his mother and has had to work several extra jobs while maintaining a high GPA, was one of only 20 National Pearson Prize for Higher Education Fellows named earlier this year.

"We cannot waver in our commitment to Jarell and the rest of our students," Johnson said. "These young people deserve our best effort."

Johnson concluded that with plenty of "smart people," "great ideas" and "collaboration" at the University, the time was right to make "our region a University-centered community."

"Through your daily actions and our timeless sense of teamwork that runs so strongly through this beautiful campus, you've set us on a path that will define our future," Johnson said.

He added, "It's not what we've given on this campus, though what we've given has been substantial ... it's what we've shared that has gotten us to this point. The story of this University has been about our people, all of our people, who have proudly shown our community and our state the power of the possible, the power of what can be."

President Johnson's speech is available on the president's office website.


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