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Office of the President

Plenary Address by Dr. Nancy L. Zimpher to the All-University Faculty Meeting, October 15, 2003

Good afternoon, and thank you to the Faculty of the University of Cincinnati for the invitation to speak to you today.

Thank you, in particular, to Rick Karp as Faculty Chair and member of the Search and Screen Committee and your academic colleagues on the committee. You were very well represented throughout the search, and of course, I found the outcome very satisfactory!

I would like to thank the Board of Trustees, as well. My remarks today are largely a distillation of the observations shared with me throughout the search and the ambitions of both the Board of Trustees and the members of the Search and Screen Committee as conveyed to me during that process.

And thanks to you (faculty, staff, students and friends) for taking time out of your busy schedules today to attend not only this plenary address but also the very compelling session previously presented by IU professor George Kuh. And for those of you still in the classroom or office at this moment, thanks for tuning into the webcast, or reading this message on our UC Web site.

Let me also remind you that – if counting only business days – this is my 11th! I am only able to stand before you today because of the company I have been keeping. You might not know, but shortly after my brief introduction to the UC community on July 22, I dashed off an email to Vice President Greg Vehr outlining my hopes and expectations for what I then called “Day One, Week One, Month One.” By now, two of those hurdles have been eclipsed: Day One and Week One. They were filled with:

• A visit to every college save my forthcoming visit to Raymond Walters College

• A very early Cabinet meeting

• A meeting with the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate, and a regular Senate meeting

• A reception with the leadership of the Undergraduate Student Government

• Cameo appearances with selected advisory, honorary and scholarship events

• And tours – by foot or by golf cart – of most, if not all, of the acreage of our West and East campuses.

During these brief introductions to UC, I have:
• Discovered that we have almost as many zebra fish as students on this campus
• Had my first-ever inspection of one of our high powered confocal microscopes
• Peered into another human’s brain at the Center for Imaging Research
• Tested the culinary treats of the MarketPointe Dining Hall
• Addressed Bearcat fans from the 50-Yard Line at Nippert Stadium, and
• Shared a high-five with the tuxedo-clad Bearcat himself


With all this visibility, you wonder, don’t you, about the highly scientific survey results from students polled on Day One about just who exactly is this new president. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, nine out of 12 students knew there was a new president. Three knew my name. No one knew where my previous job was, but the two best guesses were Chicago and Canada. (For the record, it was Milwaukee.)

Tom Riesenberg, a freshman from Madeira, gave an early vote of confidence: "I still don't know her name, but I'm sure she's qualified for the job or she wouldn't have gotten the job."

Matt Niese of Anderson Township exhibited “instant recall” when he reported: "I found out about it this morning. An economics professor talked about it in class. I know that she exists.”

But Mike Greene of Mount Healthy put the transition in perspective: "I heard last year in one of my classes that the old guy was retiring, and it was going to be a woman coming in."

That brings me squarely to Joe Steger and his legacy. Many have observed that the physicality of this campus has truly been transformed over the past two decades. Clearly Joe’s hand has been at work in every aspect of the Campus Master Plan.

But when I saw that wonderful photo in the Enquirer on September 30, on Page One, above the fold – you know, the one captioned “packed up, moving on” – it reminded me of another important dimension of Joe’s legacy: the legacy of a strong and vibrant faculty, a dedicated and hard-working staff, a dynamic and diverse student body, and many, many alumni and friends of the University of Cincinnati, who care greatly about this place.

Together you represent our incredible opportunity to build on UC’s greatness. While you are the most important building block, there are many others, including:

• UC’s comprehensive program array; and the potential for creating more cross-disciplinary programs in the arts, the sciences, the humanities, the health sciences and the professional programs.
• UC's strength as a “research powerhouse.” We have exceptional intellectual capacity.
• UC’s diverse and excellent student body and the value diversity adds to this campus and the community.
• UC’s increasing recognition as a destination campus, a global as well as a local and regional campus, a reputation based in large part on your world-class co-op program and its ongoing potential.
• And importantly, UC’s profound sense of community, given the rich capacities of UC faculty, staff and students, and the resource-rich and, even, problem-rich environment that is the Cincinnati region.

Still there is much more that we can – and should – do to extend UC’s greatness into premier institutional status. In this regard, and again drawing on a lot of input during these early days, I posit five areas that must be top priority in our thinking and planning in the weeks and months to come:

• Managing the Campus Master Plan. We must work toward full realization of the campus core, and particularly achieving closure on Main Street and Varsity Village. We must reward the patience of our student body as we put their needs first and foremost to enhance the quality of life on campus. Still, ‘cranes are a good thing,’ as we continue to weave our way through future phases of the Campus Master Plan. Further, we must derive from the Campus Master Plan some lessons learned about the master planning process, such as acting from an articulated set of principles, that could inform the next priority:

• Coordinating an Academic Master Plan. With the Campus Master Plan as a model, we must frame our ambitions and aspirations to become truly premier and world-class into an Academic Master Plan, by whatever name, that will continue to guide our physical and financial planning for the coming five- to ten-year period. We must establish the operative elements of this planning effort, both substance and process, that would achieve a “unified campus, with integrative academic aspirations, that in the future would be the guidepost for further campus definition, resource identification, and international reputation.” This Academic Master Plan must fully recognize the need for:

• Continuing to Enhance our Research Capacity. An ambitious goal in research is possible, because you have already reached extraordinary external funding benchmarks. And of course, we have before us the incredible potential of Governor Bob Taft’s Third Frontier program to provide resources to recruit world-class scholars and attract additional research dollars to help us weave together the intellectual capacities of the University, its corporate and government partners, to literally simultaneously save lives and create jobs. But, we have room to grow in terms of peer recognition of our scholarly capacity, interdisciplinarity, external resource identification, laboratory and research infrastructure, allocation of faculty lines, increases in post-doctoral opportunity, among other measures. All the while, we must continue to focus on our core business:

• Enhancing the Student Experience at UC. We must work through existing and future initiatives to benefit students by improving diversity, boosting retention and graduation rates, and providing better service to our students. The quality of the student experience is multi-faceted, and will be affected by right-sizing the campus through effective enrollment planning, increased programming and activities, attention to ritual and culture, in addition to an evolving and responsive curriculum and in our extraordinary co-op and service learning opportunities. Still our mission would not be fulfilled without:

• Expanding Relationships within Our Community. We must work to achieve synergies within our triadic mission of teaching and learning, research and discovery, outreach and service and the many reciprocal relationships that exist between university and community. While we have enjoyed exceptional coverage in the media during this leadership transition, one cannot help but read by column inch the profound expectations to extend our capacities and our partnerships with and for Cincinnati, the region and the State. We must continue to commit this institution to this region’s economic, social, cultural, educational and artistic future.

All of these elements, I believe, have appropriate roles in the evolution of a Comprehensive Academic Master Plan.

So then, how will we go about evolving this Comprehensive Academic Master Plan? Based on conversations I have had to-date, a number of questions can be asked:
• What is the framework for the content and substance of this plan?
• What are the 21st century questions that are important in defining our future?
• What are our distinctive qualities, or uniquenesses?
• Who do we most want to emulate, if anyone?
• What steps need to be taken to “modernize” the curriculum; the teaching, learning, research, and program development that reflect our 21st century context?
• Where are there areas of interdisciplinarity that must be attended to?
• How do we build on the power of real-world education (practical education, experienced-based learning) in combination with world-class expertise (and high impact research) that is UC’s distinction?
• How do these questions, as others we will collectively pose, and their answers, point to an ambitious vision of our future?

This should be an iterative process, a process that will involve organizing our questions into aspirational statements that warrant strategic steps and then prioritizing those steps for action.

First of all, we must identify what can we accomplish that is useful and reasonable and in a realistic timeframe.

Second, we must make the process both iterative and inclusive, sequencing discussions, beginning with a combined retreat of the President’s Cabinet and the Deans’ Council, with appropriate representation from the faculty and our students.

Third, we must acknowledge steps taken thus far toward University-wide academic planning such as the Collaboration for Student Success and its Collegiate Structures Initiative, the Millennium Plan, and the work of Faculty Senate toward an Academic Master Plan.

Fourth, we must move the process to a steering committee, assigned the task of topics and process. Throughout this process, we must identify a reasonable group of people to convene in various forums to get the bulk of the discussion done, using position papers to guide our work. We will need to balance participation and expediency as we determine the inclusiveness and size of this committee. The steering committee will establish timelines and responsibilities, as well as the need for external support, staffing, and resources.

Finally, we must establish a process for writing this all up in a comprehensive plan, working through the governance process, and disseminating it throughout the campus and community at the appropriate time.

You may rightly ask what I bring to this process. Over the past 5 years, I have learned, up close and personal, a great deal about presidential leadership.
A. I have learned that vision trumps everything: A big fan of Collins and Porras' Built to Last, I know that organizations are most effective when a well-articulated and ambitious vision of the future exists, reflecting the rich traditions of the past as well as our aspirations for the future.

B. But I have also learned that vision is derived at the hands of many. It is sometimes opined of the academy, that when all gets said and done, more gets said than done. That will, I predict, not be the case here. I believe we can be inclusive of the various interests and constituencies on this campus and in the community and align these diverse interests in a coherent vision of our future.

C. I have learned as well that a collective vision can only derive from collective action. We must derive a targeted set of actions (not too few; not too many) and then hold ourselves accountable for results. I believe together we can do this.

D. And I have learned that we must ensure we have the pocketbook to match our aspirations. Joe Steger set the pace, and you have achieved much in endowments, research and development funding, in creative revenue enhancements. I and we must give our full attention to public and private revenue generation. And I, like you, know how to deal with declining resources. I, like you, know how to set priorities and make difficult choices.

E. And, of course, I have learned about the persistence and constancy of message. I assure you I will tirelessly tell the story of the University of Cincinnati and its greatness.

You will note that I am not placing a plan before you. I am asking you to join me as we define our future. I have heard this need from many, and I accept the challenge. But I am today placing a challenge before you – take your place in this process.

Starting today, I propose that we get to work. I will, as indicated, convene a retreat to get the process underway. I ask you to give some thought to issues and outcomes, because you will have a role in defining the future of the University of Cincinnati. Your comments are welcome via my Web site at: www.uc.edu/president/

Just click on the “Feedback” link. Your comments will get to me, and ultimately our goal will be to share your comments with others, so that this Web site can keep all of us informed as the process continues. Further, I will be reporting regularly to the Board of Trustees on our design and ambitions, incorporating their interests and priorities as we move along.

I want again to thank you all for this opportunity to speak today. And, thank you for all you have done to bring the University of Cincinnati to this important threshold. I hope it is abundantly apparent to you, even in these early days, that I am extremely excited about joining the UC family. I simply would not be here if I didn’t believe that the University of Cincinnati could become the prototypic 21st century university. And I intend to invest all my energies in service to the greatness that is the University of Cincinnati.