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Renaissance at Rensselaer: Staying the Course — Town Meeting on Fiscal Year 2006 Budget

Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D.
President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Spring 2005 Town Meeting
Darrin Communications Center
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York

Thursday, March 3, 2005

Good afternoon. Thank you for coming. And, greetings to our colleagues at Hartford, who are watching via simulcast, and to those who are watching the Web cast. View the Video

This afternoon, I had the opportunity to take part in the second "Pizza with the President" lunchtime discussion at Mother's in the Rensselaer Union. This is a new initiative that allows me to spend some time talking with, and taking questions from, students, in a casual and relaxed atmosphere. As usual, I was impressed by the students' questions, and by their passion to make Rensselaer a better place. They care deeply about this institution. And, while any of us may disagree at times about strategies and tactics, I believe we all can agree that we share a keen interest in advancing Rensselaer to the top tier of technological universities.

How we get there is the focus of this Town Meeting this afternoon. I will present an overview and highlights of the Fiscal Year 2005-2006 budget, which was approved by the Board of Trustees at their meeting this weekend. At that meeting, vice presidents and deans presented their performance plans for the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1, and the trustees approved the budget to fund those plans. The budget funds the continuance of the Renaissance at Rensselaer, which has transformed the Institute in a very short period of time. It is our intention to "stay the course" with the Renaissance, as we also push forward with our ambitious plans.

But before I speak more about our plans for the coming fiscal year, I would like to introduce the Rensselaer leadership team — the people who are leading the efforts to transform the Institute.

First, I am pleased to introduce Dr. John Minasian, the new Vice President and Dean for Rensselaer at Hartford. He joined the Hartford campus last month, after leading the executive education for working professionals programs at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Dr. Minasian has had a successful career as an executive in the information technology industry, as an entrepreneur, and as an educator. He brings a rich and diverse background to his new role at Hartford. Please join me in welcoming Dr. John Minasian to Rensselaer.

Now, I would like to introduce the other members of the cabinet. I would ask that those present please stand as I announce your name.

  • Dr. G.P. "Bud" Peterson, Provost
  • Mr. Charles Carletta, Secretary of the Institute and General Counsel
  • Ms. Virginia Gregg, Vice President for Finance and Chief Financial Officer
  • Mr. David Haviland, Class of 1964, Vice President of Institute Advancement
  • Dr. Eddie Ade Knowles, Vice President for Student Life
  • Mr. Claude Rounds, Vice President for Administration
  • Mr. Larry Snavley, Vice President for Government and Community Relations
  • Dr. Cynthia McIntyre, Chief of Staff, Assistant Secretary for the Institute, and Associate Vice President for Policy and Planning
  • Mr. John Kolb, Class of 1979, Chief Information Officer
  • Dr. Wolf von Maltzahn, Acting Vice President for Research
  • Mr. Curtis Powell, Vice President for Human Resources

And now the academic Deans who are here this afternoon:

  • Dean Alan Balfour, School of Architecture
  • Dr. Lester Gerhardt, Acting Dean, School of Engineering
  • Dean John P. Harrington, School of Humanities and Social Sciences
  • Dr. Iftekhar Hasan, Acting Dean, Lally School of Management & Technology
  • Dr. David Spooner, Associate Dean, School of Science
  • Dr. Sam Wait, Class of 1953, Associate Dean, School of Science

I am very excited that on July 1st, Dr. Alan Cramb will join Rensselaer as Dean of Engineering, and as the John A. Clark and Edward T. Crossan Professor of Engineering. Dr. Cramb's career spans both industry and academia, and he currently is professor and head of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.

Other leaders here today include:

  • Dr. Tom Apple, Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Education
  • Dr. Prabhat Hajela, Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education
  • Mr. Ken Durgans, Vice Provost, Institute Diversity
  • Ms. Karen Long, Acting Dean of Enrollment Management
  • Mr. Mark Smith, Dean of Students
  • Mr. Ken Ralph, Director of Athletics

This is the "spring town meeting," which given the recent weather, may seem a bit optimistic. Although astronomical spring does not arrive until Sunday, March 20, with the vernal equinox, March 1 is considered to be the beginning of meteorological spring. Let us take the meteorological view of the seasons, and see the possibility of spring in the world around us. It is there if we but look. Spring presents us with a propitious time to take stock, to see how far we have come, to contemplate how far we have to go, and to look at specific plans for the coming year.

We started this integrated planning and budgeting approach immediately following the approval of The Rensselaer Plan by the Board of Trustees in May 2000. The first performance plans were built — during the 2000-2001 academic and fiscal year — for FY02 beginning July 1, 2001. We are, therefore, in the fifth cycle of performance planning and budgeting.

With five years in hand, this is a good time to review the progress we have made over that time.

  • During the past five years, Rensselaer has gone through a transformation that is nothing short of a Renaissance — a rebirth that will make Rensselaer a top-tier technological research university for the 21st century.
  • We are growing, and renewing, our faculty, bringing 140 new faculty members to the Institute in four years. Of these faculty, 73 are in entirely new positions, well on our way to a goal of adding 100 new faculty.
  • We are seeing increasing research awards, from $37 million to $90 million in five years — truly significant growth.
  • We are moving into new domains, such as the life sciences and biotechnology. As a measure of our success in this arena, research awards from the National Institutes of Health have grown from $400,000 three years ago, to more than $24 million today — with continued growth to come.
  • We have expanded the number of Ph.D. students, awarding 182 doctorates toward a goal of 250 per year.
  • The quality of entering students is stellar. Average freshman SAT scores have increased 60 points in the last six years. This year the average SAT score for the Class of 2008 is 1321.
  • We have initiated nearly $400 million in new construction and in renovation of facilities for research, teaching, and student life.
  • We have publicly launched the largest Campaign in Rensselaer history: Renaissance at Rensselaer: The Campaign for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, with a goal of $1 billion. Today, we have achieved more than $638 million in gifts and gift commitments, exceeding all fund raising in previous campaigns combined.
  • Through careful planning and disciplined financial management, we are addressing key enabling processes, including some that have brought fundamental and challenging changes to Rensselaer.

Let me amplify on that last point. I do appreciate, and I understand, that changes have been widespread, and they have occurred in a very short time span.

Many of the changes have been essential. The Institute had de-emphasized faculty recruiting in the 1990s. Student quality had dropped several years in a row. Rensselaer had not opened a new research building since 1988 (the Low Center) and Barton Hall, the first new student residence hall since 1976, was begun my first year at Rensselaer, in 1999. Clearly this was an institution in need of renewal, especially as the 21st century approached.

Dr. Elias Zerhouni, director of the National Institutes of Health, speaking at the dedication of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies in September, told us pointedly: "If Rensselaer had not embraced biotechnology, [you] would have missed the 21st century."

But we have made significant changes, and they have arrested a drop in quality and reputation that had been developing over many years. We are beginning now to see the effects — in the faculty we are recruiting, in the students we are attracting, and in the rankings that others compile.

The Institute's budget has tracked the growth in faculty, in programs, and in the facilities and infrastructure needed to support people and programs. The budget for the 2005-2006 academic year — fiscal year FY06 — is $357 million, up close to 40 percent from a budget of $263 million five years ago.

I would like to lay out what this budget does for us — the people of Rensselaer — and then what it demands of us — the people of Rensselaer.

The FY06 budget continues our investment in faculty, who are, after all, driving the Rensselaer Renaissance. Faculty are the key to the transformation of Rensselaer. They attract the best students. They contribute to the discourse that defines the edges of their disciplines. And, they attract competitive, and growing, support for important and interesting research.

By the end of FY2006, we will have hired 150 new faculty (possibly more), 73 of them in new positions (this includes constellations). This is very significant faculty growth and enhancement for an institution of our size. When this approved hiring is completed, we will have increased the number of tenured and tenure-track positions by 25 percent. The hiring is in targeted areas that support the goals of The Rensselaer Plan and our research foci. Consider that in FY 2005, eight faculty were hired in new positions in biology, with two more searches under way. This represents our commitment to strengthen the life sciences at Rensselaer, which is crucial to the realization and success of our biotechnology research program, and to bring us in line with where the world and, often, other major institutions already are. We are doing this even as we continue to strengthen and grow all areas of Rensselaer.

New faculty are bringing distinction to the Institute. Consider that in the past five years, 30 Rensselaer faculty have won National Science Foundation (NSF) Early Career Awards, one of the most competitive and prestigious awards given by NSF, placing emphasis on high-quality research and novel education initiatives. Our most recent award winners are:

  • Dr. Koushik Kar, assistant professor of electrical, computer, and systems engineering, who will use his grant to research methods to improve the flow of information through large-scale wireless sensor networks.
  • Dr. Carlos Varela, assistant professor of computer science, who is working on the design and implementation of computer programming technology for use in solving complex scientific problems through high-performance grid computing.
  • Dr. Chang Ryu, assistant professor of chemistry and chemical biology, who is exploring new and improved techniques for separating and analyzing polymers, which are widely used as plastics.

The encouragement of, and support for, increased faculty research is one of the key goals of The Rensselaer Plan. In the coming fiscal year, expenditures for research are projected to grow 15 percent.

Our robust hiring plan also has benefited the student-faculty ratio, which, over these five years, has been reduced from 17 to 1 to 14 to 1 — or 11.3 to 1, for undergraduates. This is an important indicator for the quality of instruction at Rensselaer, because it allows for more faculty to teach and to interact with students.

The FY06 budget continues our investment in Rensselaer Plan initiatives.


  • Hiring for all constellations will continue, with the expectation that, by the end of FY06, three constellations will be filled.
  • To date, we have filled five Constellation positionsóthree in the past year.
  • The Future Chips Constellation has been completed in this current fiscal year.
  • We are in the process of filling the constellation in biocatalysis and metabolic engineering.
  • Our newest constellation hire, Dr. Angel Garcia, is playing a lead role in structuring the constellation in biocomputation and bioinformatics. Dr. Garcia joined Rensselaer January 1st from Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he led a multimillion-dollar research program in theoretical biology.

Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies

  • This exciting signature building was opened last September.
  • The initial phase of move-in and occupancy is essentially complete, with laboratories on the second, third, and fourth floors up and running, and a number of support labs operational.
  • Today, more than 60 researchers are at work in the center.
  • The FY06 budget funds the continued fit-up of laboratories, and finances operations for the facility.

Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC)

  • Capital budget continues to fund construction, which, when you look at the site overlooking 8th Street, is well under way. Plans are for a building that will be 206,000 square feet. (As a point of comparison, the Biotechnology Center is 218,000 square feet)
  • We expect to begin move-in to the building during the Winter and Spring of 2007/2008, with the grand-opening festival planned for September 2008.
  • This operating budget continues to support EMPAC programming, including a performance that will be staged at the construction site this September.

First-Year Experience and Student Life Initiatives

  • We continue to expand orientation for new students and Navigating Rensselaer and Beyond to reflect the growing diversity of the student experience.
  • We are expanding the class dean concept to the Class of 2008; by FY07 all four classes will have their own deans.
  • You may not know that we have three "themed" living arrangements available to students. About 20 students in Nugent Hall are grouped around their interest in the performing arts. A science fiction community is located in Warren Hall. The newest themed living arrangement is called CAVE (Community Action through Volunteer Engagement), which is located in Davison Hall. The FY06 budget provides support for this growing initiative, as well as the resources to explore other living/learning arrangements.
  • And, with the dedication of the remodeled Academy Hall in December, student services — from the student health center to financial aid, and everything in between — are now consolidated in this building on the south campus. I encourage you to check it out.

The FY06 budget continues investment in Rensselaer's people.

  • There will be merit increases available for faculty and staff.
  • Employer-of-choice initiatives will continue as Rensselaer strengthens its reputation as a top regional employer. That is, we will focus on retaining key talent, while offering a highly competitive total compensation package, including an outstanding benefits package.

The FY06 budget continues investment in academic and research platforms, and in a more robust campus life.

The building and renovation activity on the Troy campus represents an investment of $400 million in new construction, renovation, and adaptive re-use of facilities for research, teaching, and student life. In FY06:

  • We will continue to renovate research facilities for constellation faculty, for other faculty joining Rensselaer, and for research equipment and projects requiring renovation.
  • We will renovate the Winslow Building to address strategic space needs in information technology, computer science, cognitive science, and related initiatives.
  • We will continue the renovation of West Hall as the home of the Arts Department, and as an anchor of the Eighth Street arts corridor. The renovation includes a black-box theater for emerging programs.
  • Speaking of West Hall, we are continuing a four-year project to restore the exterior of the building, (including new windows), upgrading the interior, and, overall, extending its life and respecting this important part of the campus and community. You can learn much more about the fascinating past, present, and future of this historic building, the only one on campus to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, from the current issue of Rensselaer magazine.
  • The budget will support the continued improvement of student housing, with a focus on offering more options to graduate students. Now that the renovation of 901 Peoples Avenue is complete, we turn our attention to 1002 Peoples, right across the street. We hope to have this building ready for occupancy for the Fall semester.
  • The Colonie Apartments, which house upperclass students, will undergo much-needed renovation.
  • The budget also supports continued upgrades of athletic facilities as well as our plans to construct new fields and facilities on the East Campus.
  • In concert with Sodexho, we continue to roll out hospitality improvements, adding to the vitality of both the core campus and the 15th Street corridor. I encourage you to stop by the new Jazzman's Café, right in this building, and Java++, the new coffeehouse at 15th Street and College Avenue. They are both lively and welcoming venues for anyone in the Rensselaer community to enjoy a meal, a cup of coffee, and conversation. The coffeehouse also offers both wired and wireless access to the campus network.
  • A follow-through from the FY05 budget will lead to a renovation of the main floor of the Folsom Library.

Let me turn now to how we are going to continue this growth and expansion, under the FY06 budget.

The budget requires extreme discipline on the expense side. All portfolios have aligned their budgets with their priorities, seeking wherever possible to redirect funds to their most important activities and initiatives.

The budget assumes that research expenditures, and indirect cost return to support the costs of that research, will continue to grow.

The budget also assumes that the capital campaign will produce both commitments and cash, for The Rensselaer Plan priorities and as unrestricted support.

The budget assumes that we will continue aggressive management of Rensselaer's endowment and the returns from that endowment.

Tuition and fee levels under this budget will be commensurate with the quality of the education we offer, and with the demands of the competitive marketplace:

  • The undergraduate tuition rate will increase, by 7 percent, to $31,000.
  • This allows Rensselaer to move forward in providing a world-class technological education and maintaining alignment of our tuition rate with that of peer institutions.
  • But I want to note, in particular, that for the first time an upperclass student financial aid pool has been established to minimize the impact of this tuition increase on upperclass student retention. Successful upperclass students may be eligible for additional financial aid if the tuition increase presents an economic hardship.
  • Room and board will increase by a moderate 3.7 percent and 4 percent, respectively.
  • Full-time graduate student tuition is $31,000, which is consistent with the undergraduate rate. Students receiving assistantships are supported fully by the Institute or by research contracts, enabling Rensselaer to attract the best doctoral students, and to remain competitive for research awards.
  • Tuition rates for students in Education for Working Professionals (EWP) general studies programs are designed to promote efficient use of faculty, while encouraging students to take more credits during the academic year. For these students, enrolled here in Troy, in Hartford, or in the distance program, a full-load tuition of $9,000 allows a student to register for either 9 credits ($1,000 per credit) or up to 12 credits ($750 per credit) during the academic year. Partial-load tuition is $1,000 per credit. Part-time courses on the Troy campus remain unchanged this year, at $1,320 per credit hour. Cohort-based executive programs are priced in accordance with the quality of the programs and the marketplace.

While I am on the subject of tuition and fees, I would like to compliment the Rensselaer Union Executive Board and the Student Senate for developing the Union budget in record time, and with a high level of thoughtfulness, analysis, and alignment with The Rensselaer Plan and Student Life performance plan initiatives. The Union budget has the effect of setting the Activity Fee, which is part of the Instituteís tuition and fees for the coming year.

In spite of the size and the scope of initiatives covered in the FY06 budget, we are still investing in people and platforms in anticipation of results.

Faculty growth, in numbers and research productivity, has produced a significant growth in research awards. It takes time to convert awards to expenditures.

Overhead rates reflect the real costs of research. Rensselaer's federally negotiated overhead rate has increased from 55 percent to 60 percent, incorporating use of the biotechnology building, but it takes time for the indirect costs to flow.

We are building and operating platforms, like the biotechnology center, which will allow us to continue to attract outstanding faculty, students, and research.

Most important, our competitors are not standing still. Universities like Carnegie Mellon, Case Western Reserve, and Georgia Tech continue to press forward. Each has a larger faculty, does more research, has a larger endowment, and has more diverse programs than Rensselaer. But reaching, even surpassing, them is possible with a successful campaign, research growth, careful planning, and judicious use of our resources.

While the FY06 budget offers much, it also demands much of us. Specifically:

We must enroll a freshman class of 1,250.

Because our resources are, to a large extent, tuition-driven, rather than endowment-driven, as is the case at some major universities, increasing the demand for a Rensselaer education is crucial. To this end, we commissioned an external report on how we can improve enrollment. Now we are in the process of putting into action the report's recommendations for short- and long-term strategies, and other initiatives to address this issue.

We must stay the course on research and graduate education.

The graduate support and tuition policy has had important positive effects, which we now are seeing — in student quality and in external support for students. The Board of Trustees re-affirmed its commitment to this policy and approach at its February (2005) meeting.

We must turn around our Education for Working Professionals (EWP) program in Hartford and Troy.

As you know, the Education for Working Professionals program, which is based primarily at Hartford, is undergoing a transformation. We are building on core strengths to develop new high-end programs for working professionals. Currently, graduate programs are offered in the key fields of business administration, management, computer science, information technology, computer and systems engineering, electrical engineering, engineering science, and mechanical engineering. New offerings include a one-year professional master's program in computer science, and a 30-month master of business administration program. These offerings, our executive programs, and our overall enrollment numbers, must continue to grow in order to realize the potential of this unique program.

We must take advantage of summer opportunities.

That is, we must seek out and cultivate opportunities for using the Troy campus during the summer. This may involve everything from conferences to meetings to education and recreation programs.

We must expand our resource base. We must:

  • Continue a successful fund-raising campaign.
  • Continue to achieve appropriate indirect cost return from research.
  • Continue shifting investment strategy from aggressive growth to absolute return.

We must have the discipline to reduce expenses if revenues from these activities do not materialize.

October 1 is our "decision point," the date by which we can assess revenues and expenditures, and make adjustments, if needed.

This budget represents the Board of Trustees' continued support for, and confidence in, the Renaissance at Rensselaer. We cannot succeed, however, without your support and confidence — and without your continued hard work.

During my interview in December on the CSPAN program Q&A, host Brian Lamb asked me: "What is Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute?" I answered with a brief explanation of our history and purpose, to give viewers a better understanding of what we are all about. But, for us, here at Rensselaer, this is a much deeper question. Indeed, what is Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute? How do we answer this question in our daily work, in our interactions with one another: students, faculty and staff, as well as with alumni and friends, with media, and with members of the wider community?

In this regard, let me share with you some thoughts from Peter Baldwin, Class of 2006, and President of the Union. He wrote in his February 23rd Poly column: "The Rensselaer of today is not the Rensselaer of three years ago," mentioning the many changes in facilities, academics, and student life during his time here. While acknowledging that change can be difficult, he goes on to observe: "If changes like this were easy, every university would do it, and if giving our university a competitive advantage took no sacrifice or adversity to overcome, then it would no longer be a competitive advantage." He ends by noting: "This is not a time to cast doubt on our direction or progress, but to pull together and take part in something extraordinary."

There can be as many perspectives on this distinguished institution, as there are people in it. But I think we do share a belief — a vision — of Rensselaer as a force for positive change in the world. You, the people of Rensselaer, are local and global citizens. Through your research, your teaching, your discovery and innovation, and through your service to others, you are changing the world. We want this budget — and the goals it embodies — to enable further what you do. Our world depends upon it.

Before I close, I have an exciting announcement to make — the name of the commencement speaker. The main speaker for Rensselaer's 199th commencement will be United States Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY). Senator Clinton will speak at the Commencement, on Saturday, May 21, at 9:30 a.m., at the Harkness Field.

Senator Clinton is a national and global leader, focusing on issues of national security, innovation and science, and education. She also gives important focus to regional economic development, paying particular attention to upstate New York concerns.

Senator Clinton is the only First Lady ever elected to the United States Senate, where she has served since 2000. She is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and the Committees for Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and Environment and Public Works.

The Senator has been an advocate for support of basic research, including co-sponsoring the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act. She is also a strong advocate for improving access to higher education. We are delighted and honored to have her speak to the next generation of leaders at the May commencement.

Stay tuned for the announcement of all the honorary degree recipients.
Rensselaer is a force of hope in this uncertain and tumultuous time. In an increasingly complex world that demands new solutions and new ways of thinking, Rensselaer has been at the leading edge of pedagogy, and is strengthening its pedagogy, as it is emerges as a leader at the forefront of discovery and innovation — the twin engines of our global economy and the basis for progress and advances to benefit people around the world. We must seize this opportunity — this moment — to claim a pre-eminent place for Rensselaer in a new world. I am glad we all are together on this remarkable journey.

Source citations are available from the division of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Statistical data contained herein were factually accurate at the time it was delivered. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute assumes no duty to change it to reflect new developments.

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