The View from T-Hall

The Challenges Ahead

AS I LOOK OUT ON OUR SNOW-COVERED CAMPUS from my vantage point in Thompson Hall, it is hard to believe that spring semester is well underway. Before we know it we will be celebrating Honors Convocation and the university's 137th Commencement. But before we move on to those venerable traditions, I would like to reflect upon the first six months of my service as interim president and share with you what I see as some of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead as we embark upon this new semester.

As I stated in June, UNH is a dynamic university--one that could not stand still even if it wanted to. The work of our faculty, students and staff advances UNH's mission in many exciting ways. Some of our accomplishments over the recent months:

* The UNH Crimes against Children Research Center and Verizon hosted a town hall meeting to discuss the design of a child-safe Internet. Leaders from academia, the business community and local, state and federal government highlighted their partnership in light of an increasingly hostile Internet.

* UNH hosted an open house to showcase Project54, the voice-activated police cruiser developed by UNH engineers.

* Alumni and businesses have contributed more than $3 million so far to the Kingsbury Hall renovation and expansion project, which is helping to provide our students with the very best teaching and research tools.

* A dedication ceremony was held for the Hamel Center for Undergraduate Research. In collaboration with other academic programs, the center develops opportunities for students to participate in research activities with faculty members.

* The number of applications for next year's first-year class has already exceeded the record number received at the same time last year. We are committed to returning to a class size of around 2,700, however, to assure adequate housing and high quality classroom experiences for our first-year students.

* UNH football won many exciting games with record-breaking attendance. Men's and women's hockey continue to build on their stellar records. Currently, the men are No. 1 in the nation.

I have had the pleasure and the privilege of witnessing these and many more successes. This does not mean we are without our challenges, and I do take responsibility for addressing them. Knowing, and witnessing over and over last fall, the resolve this community has for making this an even more exceptional university, I have no doubt good solutions will prevail. But we are going to have to roll up our sleeves and work together in order to accomplish the tasks at hand. There are many:

The University System will make a case for its biennial budget request before the state legislature in the coming months. Its request, if approved, would hold tuition increases over the biennium to 4.5 percent each year and substantially expand need-based financial aid. The proposed budget is based on a 7.6 percent increase in general funds for each year.

The USNH Board of Trustees gave conceptual approval for an innovative pipeline project that would transport methane gas from the Turnkey Recycling and Environmental Enterprise in nearby Rochester. UNH is studying the feasibility of replacing commercial natural gas with this processed landfill gas. If we conclude this is a viable and worthy endeavor, we will gain more stability with respect to future energy costs, which have doubled in the past five years from $6.3 million to $12.5 million per year.

Just prior to the holiday break, mediation ended between the administration and the faculty union. Both sides are now working hard to identify a fact finder so the process can move along to what we hope will be an agreement later this spring.

Overall, UNH's financial health is good, partly thanks to growth in enrollment. But we continue to be challenged with providing need-based financial aid to our undergrads. Due to reduced federal funding, we are expecting a significant decline in research funding. Costs for medical benefits and the upkeep of our buildings continue to increase. We also need to keep salaries competitive with the marketplace to attract and retain the best and brightest faculty and staff. To address these challenges, we plan to grow our research revenue through competitive awards. We are working with USNH to address medical-benefit costs. And we need to increase our income from private gifts to support the operations of the university. The work will be challenging, but I am confident we will succeed.

While this list may seem daunting, all of us at UNH are accustomed to challenges and opportunities, and I am confident we will find solutions. When I began leading this great institution, the list of challenges was as long, and perhaps longer. There were days when I wondered how we would get it all done. But I have had the privilege of witnessing great achievements on this campus, and I know we will accomplish what we set out to do.

And how will we end the semester? As I noted at the beginning of this column, UNH celebrates its 137th Commencement this May. President George H. W. Bush and President William J. Clinton, the 41st and 42nd presidents of the United States, have accepted our invitation to be this year's keynote speakers. In today's political climate, these two gentlemen remind all of us of America's generosity. Their statesmanship and humanitarian spirits lead us by example. It will be a privilege for our students and their families and the campus community to hear a message of hope, partnership and action.

blog comments powered by Disqus