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Renaissance at Rensselaer

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

Town Meeting on Fiscal Year 2005 Budget
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York

Thursday, March 4, 2004


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.

The purpose of this town meeting is to discuss the budget for fiscal year 2005, in the context of the continuing Renaissance at Rensselaer. The plans for the coming year build upon our accomplishments, and the remarkable progress that has been made toward achieving the ambitious goals of The Rensselaer Plan.

As I often say, one only needs to look out any window at Rensselaer to see the tangible evidence of this Renaissance. Rensselaer is changing before our eyes. As the slide show which you saw as you entered the room today attests, from the South Campus, to residence halls, to streetscapes, to academics, to student life, the Institute is being revitalized as never before.

This is a propitious time to talk about Renaissance, revitalization, and renewal, as we emerge from a long winter in the Northeast. While nature readies itself for spring, so, too, are we, in the Rensselaer community, preparing for a new fiscal year, and in the months ahead, for a new future.

At my church, people use the expression "making a way out of no way." This means, in a sense, taking whatever modest resources are available and realizing oneís dreams, in spite of the odds. I contend we are doing just that. We are moving forward on multiple fronts — simultaneously. And, while we have not allowed our dreams to grow beyond our means, we, nonetheless, are realizing our dreams. We have been successful in the areas in which we have focused our efforts and our resources. And, I expect this success will continue.

Yes, we do have ambitious goals for the Institute. And, I do realize that this is a challenging time for higher education in the United States. The economy and world events have been in turmoil for a number of years — a state of uncertainty which makes planning for the future that much more difficult. And, of course, a presidential election year always creates an interesting atmosphere. So, the question is: How will Rensselaer succeed amid uncertainty? I think we are doing that already, and the Fiscal Year 2005 budget, which was approved by the Board of Trustees last weekend, will keep us on that path.

This is the fourth year of the implementation of The Rensselaer Plan, which was conceived to secure the Renaissance and the future of Rensselaer. The focus of the fiscal year 2005 budget is on more efficient and effective ways to achieve the goals of the plan. It stands as a strong endorsement by the Board of Trustees of our accomplishments, and of our plans for the future. It will enable us to continue our transformation, in the areas of undergraduate and graduate education, student life, faculty development, and research, among others. Our growth, while ambitious given the current climate, is stable and sustainable over the long term.

As you know, careful performance planning and budgeting, along with fiscal restraint, have been necessary to achieve our Institute-wide goals, as well as those for the five schools and for our administrative divisions. Our 2005 plans make this well-honed practice even more crucial, in a time of economic uncertainty and greater fiscal restraints.

We are vigilant about prudently managing resources so that we can offer a world-class education and living experiences to our students; so that we can attract the finest faculty; so that we can increase the research program; so that we can build and maintain optimal facilities; and, so that we can maintain competitive merit salary increases for our faculty and staff. These are the measures of our success.

Already we have an admirable record of success. And, of course, success always brings risks. First of all, Rensselaer is being noticed. And, as a result, others, who may have larger resources and reputations, are looking at our people, hoping to pick up and "pick off" faculty and administrative resources. This is a direct product of our success, and it carries the message that we must continue to strive to attract — and, especially, to retain — the world-class people who have enabled our achievements.

Another risk is the perception that, since we have succeeded on many fronts, we have all the resources we need. Of course, that is not true. The Rensselaer Plan requires resources of more than a single large gift. To complete The Plan, to sustain its momentum, and to build a strong foundation for the Rensselaer future, we will require an unprecedented capital campaign. I will have more to say about that shortly.

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

  • Dr. G.P. "Bud" Peterson, Provost
  • Dr. Arthur Sanderson, Vice President for Research
  • Mr. Charles Carletta, Secretary of the Institute and General Counsel
  • Mr. David Haviland, Class of 1964, Vice President of Institute Advancement
  • Mr. John Kolb, Class of 1979, Chief Information Officer
  • Mr. Curtis Powell, Vice President for Human Resources
  • Mr. Claude Rounds, Vice President for Administration
  • Ms. Virginia Gregg, Vice President for Finance
  • Mr. Larry Snavley, Vice President for Government and Community Relations
  • Dr. Eddie Ade Knowles, Vice President for Student Life
  • Dr. Cynthia McIntyre, Chief of Staff, Assistant Secretary for the Institute, and Associate Vice President for Policy and Planning
  • And, at Rensselaer at Hartford, Dr. Alan Eckbreth, Class of 1976, vice president and dean.

I would also like to welcome a new member to the Rensselaer community. Dr. Leslie "Les" Lawrence, M.D., joined Rensselaer in January as medical director for the Gallagher Student Health Center.

Dr. Lawrence heads a staff which includes physician assistants, psychologists, a health educator, and other medical professionals and support staff. He is responsible for the clinical, administrative, and regulatory affairs of the health center.

Please join me in welcoming Dr. Lawrence.

As we embark on the 2005 fiscal year, I want to emphasize that we have made significant strides in the focal areas of the plan. We are committed to continuing this progress.

We will continue to invest in our faculty, especially in the constellations and in the focal areas of biotechnology and information technology.

  • We will grow research expenditures by 10 percent.
  • Fiscal year 2005 represents peak investment in Rensselaer Plan initiatives. Accordingly, total operating expenditures, including those investments, will increase by 8 percent. We have redirected within portfolio budgets to remain on a sustainable growth path, with this budget.
  • We will have merit increases for our faculty and staff. Redirection from portfolio budgets is necessary to maintain this level of investment.
  • We will continue the major capital projects on the South Campus and elsewhere.
  • We will continue the renovation of residence halls, and other capital, deferred maintenance, and safety projects.
  • We will continue to renew the faculty, and to hire in targeted administrative areas.
  • We will continue to make research investments, and
  • We will continue to strengthen our academic programs and counseling and advising services for our students.

Students
Students are at the center of what we do at Rensselaer. Our plans for 2005 contain student-related capital projects that will further transform, and raise the level of, the Rensselaer experience. We are focusing on improving the quality of life for our students — on campus and off. They are smart, involved, and interesting people, and they deserve the best that we can offer to them.

Our student-related capital projects for fiscal year 2005, and beyond, have a special focus on athletics facilities. First, I want to underscore, here, the importance of athletics to the student experience at Rensselaer. More and more, we are attracting students who excel in academics and in their chosen sports. Ever more of our students participate in recreational, intramural, club, and varsity sports.

I believe this is to be encouraged, for it is important that a university nurture and develop the whole student, not only the mind. In just the past six months, our sports teams have been instrumental in raising school spirit. Those of you who attended the "Blizzard Bowl" on December 6th, at the '86 Field, where the Engineers defeated Ithaca College, experienced it firsthand. The success of the football team, in reaching the Division III national semi-finals, excited the entire Rensselaer community.

The spirit of Rensselaer also was evident during our campaign to preserve the Division I men's hockey program in the face of an NCAA reform proposal to ban Division III institutions from granting athletics grants-in-aid. Thousands of Rensselaer students, faculty, staff, alumni, and hockey fans responded to our call for support. And, here too, we were successful.

We are investing, further, in our athletics program by beginning the process to raise the women's hockey team to Division I status. Our women's program has shown that it competes at the highest level in Division III, and it is time to move up, and to provide gender equity in our athletics offerings. We are drafting a timeline for the process, which includes application to the ECAC Division I womenís ice hockey league. At this time, the league includes the schools our menís hockey team faces in league play.

Such young leaders — nearly 4,000 students who play varsity, club, and intramural sports — deserve the best arenas in which to excel.

Therefore, we will undertake a series of renovations and upgrades to our athletic facilities and fields on the East Campus. The first projects are:

  • Returfing of Harkness Field, which will begin right after Commencement.
  • Upgrade of lower Renwyck Field, with improved lighting, drainage, new artificial surface, and seating.

We also are updating and further developing the East Campus athletics master plan. The initial phase of this plan includes a new athletic support facility with locker rooms, changing space for intramural sports, a weight room, and medicine room. This is now in the design stages.

The overall master plan includes a true field house to be sited to the east of the Houston Field House. In future years, this will serve as a basketball and indoor track and field facility, and as a large gathering space for the Rensselaer community. The master plan also includes a new natatorium.

However, turning the master plan into reality will track with future funding through the upcoming capital campaign.

There are other student-related capital projects which will continue into the next fiscal year. These include:

  • The first phase of a multi-year plan to restore West Hall, to allow for the implementation of programs for the future Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, as well as programs in the Department of the Arts. The renovation includes a black box studio, repairs to the building exterior, roof, and window replacement.
  • Residence hall renewal, including renovation of Warren Hall; Stacwyck Apartments; and Single RAHP townhouse apartments.
  • Completion of the transformation of Academy Hall to an integrated student services center and education facility.
  • Classroom improvements.
  • Renovations to the Commons Dining Hall, including a second entrance and partial window replacement.
  • And, we will look to create space on the Troy campus for our Information Technology and Computer Science program.

I know that we need more space for students to gather for study and conversation, and as students would say, to just "hang out." In an effort to create more space on and near campus, we are working to attract a coffee house to a space at the corner of College Avenue and 15th Street — this would be a convenient location near the student services center in Academy Hall, as well as near the growing South Campus.

We also will continue to invest in academic programs that expand our offerings, while building on the traditional areas in which Rensselaer has excelled.

  • A new Ph.D. program in Cognitive Science has been approved by New York State.
  • And, just last week, a doctoral program in Architectural Sciences received state approval. This Ph.D. will support advanced students in areas such as Lighting, Computation in Design, and in Architectural and Communications Acoustics.
  • A doctoral program in Electronic Arts is awaiting state approval.

Meanwhile, this budget continues to invest in student-support programs for academics and student life issues. We, now, have in place, for example, a computer-based early warning system which alerts faculty to students who have been performing poorly in classes. With this information, faculty, then, are able to give students the extra help they need in a more timely manner.

Another innovation, building on the successful First-Year Experience Program, is the naming of a "class dean" for each class, after the freshman year. These "deans" will head a team which will continue to provide support and outreach to each class, addressing issues to help students stay the course and graduate.

Finally, I have challenged the Division of Student Life to elevate the quality of campus life at Rensselaer. I have asked them to take a leadership role in working with the Rensselaer Union to plan cultural events and to bring speakers to campus — events which will be memorable.

As a first example, my office, in collaboration with Union Performing Arts Committee (UPAC), and the Student Life Division, is sponsoring the Thursday, March 18 concert by the internationally known Guster Band at the Houston Field House. I will be there, and I hope all of our students, faculty, and staff will be there, also. Tickets are still available.

The Health Center also has hired a new counsellor to address students' confidential social, personal, and academic needs. This is part of our commitment to educate the whole student. We can be a university that is academically demanding and rigorous, as well as nurturing and supportive of each individual. The well-being of the young people at Rensselaer is too precious for anything less.

Enrollment and Tuition
Our success in invigorating undergraduate and graduate education at Rensselaer is spurring an enrollment Renaissance. And, because our resources are, to a large extent, tuition-driven, rather than endowment-driven, as it is at some major universities, a stable enrollment is crucial.
The Rensselaer Plan calls for a total undergraduate enrollment of 5,000. To achieve this goal requires a freshman class of 1,200. This goal has been met in the past year. We now have 5,000 undergraduates, and a record-breaking freshman class of 1,341 students.

The full-time graduate residential program on the Troy campus is now fully enrolled at slightly more than 1,200 students.

We continue to recruit and to admit more Ph.D. students — in fact, 70 percent of our applications for graduate study are for the doctoral level, and we are on track to double Ph.D. enrollments, as promised in The Rensselaer Plan.

The Education for Working Professionals (EWP) program, primarily based at Hartford, is in the process of a planned rebaselining, as it transitions to high-end signature programs and refocused core programs. The economic downturn has resulted in a drop in enrollment in EWP, overall, but as the program transitions, we expect that enrollments will grow, once again.

Because tuition is a major source of revenue for us, the fiscal year 2005 plans include a modest increase to fund the goals of the coming year.

The tuition rate for full-time undergraduates and graduate students will increase 4.5 percent to $28,950. This increase enables Rensselaer to provide a world-class technological education, while it remains competitive with peer institutions.

There will be no increase in the price of housing and board programs.

Our plans also contain a provision to continue to provide full support for those graduate students to whom we offer teaching assistantships and institutionally supported research assistantships.

As the transition of EWP continues, the following tuition rates have been set for fiscal year 2005.

  • Tuition for resident part-time students will remain at $1,320 per credit hour.
  • Rensselaer at Hartford full-load tuition is set at $9,000 (that is, nine credits at $1,000, up to 12 credits at $750/credit).
  • RSVP tuition will increase very slightly to $1,000 per credit hour.

Faculty and Staff
The investment in faculty being made by the Institute is unprecedented. Consider that, by the end of this year, we will have hired 127 new tenured and tenure-track faculty over three years — 71 in new positions. This is remarkable growth.

And, this strong investment will continue into the next fiscal year. The FY05 budget includes a plan, which, upon completion, would entail the hiring of 140 faculty over the four-year period since the approval of The Rensselaer Plan, 73 of which are in entirely new positions. These numbers include the constellations in our focal areas of biotechnology and information technology.

In fact, we have completed the Future Chips Constellation, one of our "critical mass" groupings of world-caliber faculty:

In addition to Dr. E. Fred Schubert, the Wellfleet Senior Constellation Professor in Future Chips Research, who joined us last year, Dr. Christian M. Wetzel has been hired, and arrived on campus this week. Dr. Wetzel received his Ph.D. in Physics from the Technical University of Munich in 1993, and conducted postdoctoral research at the University of California at Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Meijo University, prior to joining Uniroyal Optoelectronics as a Senior Scientist and Project Manager in 2000. Dr. Wetzel has an impressive list of research accomplishments in optoelectronic device physics, and a very impressive publication record. He has many fundamental and applied contributions in solid-state physics and optoelectronics. Dr. Wetzelís industrial experience, in particular, brings an important new direction to the constellation.

Joining Dr. Wetzel in the Future Chip Constellation will be Dr. Shawn-Yu Lin, a world leader in photonics research. Dr. Lin currently heads Sandia National Laboratories' multimillion-dollar research and development effort in photonic crystal devices. He also directs a U.S. Department of Energy multi-laboratories initiative in Nano-Structural Photonics. Dr. Lin has conducted pioneering and seminal research in photonics, photonic crystals, and waveguide devices. He will add a new dimension to Rensselaer's research endeavors, and will enhance the research capabilities of several key centers, including the New York State supported Focus Center for Interconnects and the Center for Broadband Data Transport Science and Technology, a partnership between Rensselaer and IBM.

The hiring process for the other three constellations is well under way, and we anticipate completing the four full constellations by the end of fiscal year 2005.

These stellar individuals come to Rensselaer because they recognize that we are a university on the move.

And, our faculty members continue to garner prestigious honors.

Dr. Ricardo Dobry, director of the Geotechnical Centrifuge Research Center and professor of civil engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has been elected to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). Dobry was elected for his fundamental contributions to multiple aspects of geotechnical earthquake engineering.

And, just this past week, more Rensselaer faculty have been honored with the National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award (CAREER). They are:

Dr. Nikhil Koratkar, assistant professor of mechanical, aerospace, and nuclear engineering. He will use the $400,000 grant to develop a new class of nanostructured materials used to reduce vibrations in mechanical equipment and electronic devices.

Dr. Theodorian Borca-Tasciuc, director of the Nanoscale Thermophysics and Energy Conversion Laboratory (NanoTEC) and assistant professor of mechanical, aerospace, and nuclear engineering, will use his $451,000 grant to study heat transport and energy conversion in materials and electrical devices at the nanoscale.

They join 24 other Rensselaer recipients of this award in the past four years.

To continue to attract the best faculty and staff to Rensselaer, we must continue our commitment to award and to encourage excellence. This includes merit increases. Due to our fiscal discipline, careful planning, and resultant financial soundness, we are able to provide stable pay growth for faculty and staff. We also continue to implement our total compensation initiative for faculty and staff.

These practices help to give Rensselaer its reputation as a top regional employer, as well as the designation of "Employer of Choice." Rensselaer continues to focus on retaining key talent, while offering a highly competitive total compensation package, including an outstanding benefits package.

Research
Rensselaer research funding has reached an all-time high, and we plan to continue to grow this in the coming fiscal year. We fully expect to increase sponsored research funds flow by 10 percent.

Our pledge in The Rensselaer Plan was to build our sponsored research support to $100 million annually. In calendar year 2003, Rensselaer received $72 million in research awards — an all-time high. By comparison, awards in Fiscal Year 1998 were $37 million.

Much of this growth is in our target areas — nanotechnology, biotechnology, and information technology. We are investing and developing a major presence in these areas, as was our goal. Faculty are dramatically increasing their peer-reviewed research support.

One metric is growth in NIH research awards. We have grown from three active awards totaling $400,000 three years ago, to 30 active awards totaling $24 million today.

For example, just this week it was announced that we have been awarded a $2.7 million, four-year NIH grant to develop new tools for drug discovery. The grant will support basic research intended to produce effective pharmaceuticals faster and more economically. Jonathan Dordick, the Howard P. Isermann '42 Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, leads the research team, which includes Shekhar Garde, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering, and colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Another $2.1 million in NIH funding has been awarded to Rensselaer recently to develop an antidote to counteract the potentially deadly anthrax toxin in humans who have been exposed to the bacteria's spores. Under the direction of Ravi Kane, the Merck Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, the goal is to develop a compound that can be manufactured quickly and affordably, to effectively eliminate the threat of a large-scale bioterrorist anthrax attack.

These are significant awards that speak to the growing leadership of Rensselaer in important areas of biotechnology.

South Campus Transformation
In the next fiscal year, we will continue our capital renewal investment, which reflects a commitment of $90+ million, in addition to $255 million for major building projects, since the implementation of The Rensselaer Plan. I already have mentioned student-related capital projects; the South Campus, as you know, also is the major focus of the physical transformation of the Troy campus.

Many of you pass by every day the construction site of the 218,000-square-foot Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies. The building is taking shape quickly and is on track to open for the fall semester. We plan the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Friday, September 10. This event will take place during a two-day major biotechnology symposium and colloquy on the ninth and tenth of September. This will draw major figures in the field of biotechnology to the Troy campus. The opening of the center will be an exciting time here, as we celebrate completing yet another major Rensselaer Plan goal.

As we have said before, no department offices will reside in the building; rather, 25 researchers and their laboratories have been identified as initial occupants. Our constellation faculty will have suites, and other research faculty will have offices and laboratories, as well. The center will house graduate student researchersí offices, and graduate (and undergraduate) students working on theses will have laboratory space. The budget will enable the purchase of equipment and fit-up of the center.

Construction of the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) center will begin this month, with an anticipated opening in 2007.

The first phase of construction will involve excavation and site work, as the foundation is laid and the superstructure is built. Toward the end of the year, you will begin to see the building take shape.

The construction of EMPAC will impact the campus community to a much lesser degree than has the biotechnology center. But, that said, your patience with the ongoing construction projects is to be commended. I thank you, again, for your understanding and good humor, as we all continue to deal with the realities of construction.

Rounding out the South Campus update: in January, we opened a new 510-car parking garage, and I understand that many who park there are very happy with it. A new boiler plant was completed and began operating. Other continuing projects include a new chiller plant, an electric substation, improvements to College Avenue, new walkways, lighting, and street- and landscape projects. As the spring turns to summer and fall, you will notice a host of renovations and improvements to the South Campus that will make the campus more attractive and user-friendly, while providing more space for all of us.

Campaign
As you can see, from what I have outlined, and as The Rensselaer Plan clearly delineates, to truly elevate this university to the top tier requires a substantial investment in people, programs, and platforms. And, as I stated at the beginning of this presentation, one of our risks is the belief that, because we have been so successful with modest resources, that we do not have need of more. In fact, the opposite is true. Rensselaer needs a capital campaign to raise the funds necessary to enable our plans for the future. It has been more than 10 years since the last capital campaign — and, it is time to launch the first Rensselaer campaign of the 21st century.

So, in September, we will announce the launch of a capital campaign for Rensselaer. A dollar goal will be announced on September 10th. The campaign kick-off will be the culmination of an exciting roster of events, including the opening of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, a Biotechnology Symposium and Colloquy, and a celebratory communiversity event.

The need for a campaign is clear. We need to build the endowment overall, add scholarship and fellowship funds, and provide endowment backing for faculty chairs and constellations. We need to grow support for curriculum, student life, and research. Projects like the East Campus athletic facility plans, I discussed earlier, depend upon our success in garnering more financial support. Projects, such as this one, are crucial to our mission to provide a world-class experience for our students. It is time we campaign actively for this future.

We have the momentum to achieve our goals. We are well on our way to realizing the promise of the Rensselaer Renaissance, and turning back is not an option. Moving ahead — boldly — is the only way we will succeed.

Our swift and substantial progress is nothing short of astonishing in the world of higher education. This success can be attributed to your hard work, dedication, leadership and teamwork, focus, planning, careful use of resources, and loyalty to an institution which has endured for almost two centuries, and which has much to give to the world.

We have many challenges to face, as well. Rensselaer does not exist in a vacuum, but as part of a world that faces economic and political uncertainty, global health threats, a continuing war in which thousands of our service men and women put their lives on the line every day, the list goes on. But, we, at Rensselaer, are part of the solution. We stand as an institution of hope, of discovery, of innovation, of progress — of a better future.

We are on this journey together. Your hard work, your dedication, and your service are moving us forward on the road to making Rensselaer a leading university in this young century. So, as we reap the rewards of our efforts — and deal with the challenges any large institution faces — we do so as a community. Remember that the path ahead, while not always easy, is the road to changing the world.

Thank you.


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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