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Office of the President

State of the University Address by President Nancy L. Zimpher
October 19, 2005: 21st Century Innovation & the New Urban Research University

Dr. Nancy Zimpher

Dr. Nancy Zimpher presents her State of the University address at the all-faculty meeting, Wednesday, October 19, 2005.
John, thank you so much for your introduction, your leadership for our Faculty Senate, and your recent election for a second term as chair of the Ohio Faculty Council.  You are just where we need you to be in effecting good public policy for higher education in Ohio.

I continue to be inspired by Dean Doug Lowry’s “Christen the Voyage” musical fanfare, and especially so when presented in such an outstanding live performance.  Thank you again, Doug and our CCM Brass Choir, for this wonderful musical treat.

Good afternoon everyone: to all of you who are here in person and watching on the Webcast. Welcome –  members of the University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees – Buck Niehoff, Tom Humes, James Masterson and Nick Furtwengler as well as our UC Foundation Board, student government leaders, students, faculty and staff.

I do appreciate you taking time to join me today, and I am grateful to the Faculty Senate for this annual opportunity to address our university community. Each October, we take this moment to reflect on the year’s achievements and to set a course for the year going forward, aligned with our UC|21 strategic vision.

Let me also extend my profound personal gratitude for all each and everyone of you, everyday and in every way, do to make our UC an even better institution than it already is.

I don’t know if this is happening to you, but the UC|21 lapel pin seems to be working. In elevators, airplanes and even Starbucks, inquiring minds want to know – what is UC|21?

As we all know, it’s shorthand for “UC leading in the 21st century,” of course.  So today I would like to focus on what it means to be truly 21st century; that is, our unique capacity to contribute to the “creativity,” or “innovation,” economy. Just when we were getting used to the “knowledge economy,” it is being eclipsed by something new. Call it what you will – creativity, innovation, or even imagination – it’s the single most important challenge facing our new century. And the University of Cincinnati is uniquely positioned to meet this challenge head on.


But first, let us celebrate our UC|21 successes, goal by goal.

Place Students at the Center

Our “first-among-equal” goal of placing students at the center has moved the dial considerably:

  • The largest freshman class in 16 years;
  • A brighter one as well, with higher class ranks, average GPA and college entrance exam scores;
  • Growing diversity;
  • Better NSSE (National Survey of Student Engagement) scores on the enriched educational experiences on our campus today.

Grow Our Research Excellence

 Are we continuing to grow our research excellence?  Absolutely!

  • We moved up to No. 22 among public research universities, according to the NSF (National Science Foundation).
  • And just a few weeks ago, we announced another record year for our total research funding at more than $332 million – up nearly 4 percent.
  • It is a tremendous honor to report that UC is also the recipient of one of its largest-ever contributions – a $30 million gift from Craig and Frances Lindner and Edyth and Carl Lindner. This courageous offering will create the Craig and Frances Lindner Center of HOPE (Helping Other People Excel), the first freestanding mental health center built in the United States since 2001.

Achieve Academic Excellence

  • One indication of our efforts to enhance our academic excellence on campus is improved rankings from  U.S. News & World Report.  UC jumped 15 slots this year to 145.  Consistent annual gains could land us in that coveted first tier in just the next couple of years.
  • In addition, the Princeton Review recently named UC one of the Best Midwestern Universities.  And a key Chinese institution’s survey ranked us among the top 200 universities in the world, out of the 2000 reviewed.
  • We have adopted new admissions criteria that take effect in fall 2006. Our entering first-year class this fall broke a record in its number of Cincinnatus Scholars, and doubled the number of freshman National Merit Scholars.  All told, 51 merit scholars now study at UC.

Forge Key Relationships and Partnerships

We have much to be proud of in forging key relationships and partnerships:

  • A new master agreement makes it easier for scientists from Procter and Gamble and UC to work together on research projects, and with others like GE, Boeing, and Ford.
  • This year, UC also inaugurated, along with its higher education colleagues in the region, collaborative efforts to respond to two of the year’s great tragedies.  In response, UC, NKU and XU raised over $80,000 for tsunami relief. Even more of our colleagues in the region have joined us in a new hurricane relief campaign, still under way. At UC, we have raised nearly $67,000, with a total of nearly $100,000 with our partners, for Katrina/Rita relief.
  • And through the Uptown Consortium, a coalition of UC, TriHealth, the Health Alliance, the Cincinnati Zoo and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, we are making progress to bring about a better quality of life in the neighborhoods surrounding campus. Our consortium has hired a coordinator for public safety and neighborhood services to better connect the capacities of our partners to the future of our neighborhoods. 

Establish a Sense of Place

  • We have often commented on the profound transformation of our campus over the past 15 years.  Eighty-three acres and over $1.2 billion dollars later, we truly have created a sense of place on our Uptown Campus, moving a “sprung structure” to Clermont for its Student Activities Center and celebrating the opening of the Vet Tech Center at Raymond Walters.
  • Our efforts with our surrounding neighborhood organizations brought grand openings this fall for two new, privately-owned student housing complexes. The apartment-style suites at University Park are “to die for,” while the 14-building Stratford complex is a spectacular Tudor oasis that brings sororities and fraternities together with students speaking Spanish and French 24/7 at our new Valentine House, among other foci.
  •  Just in time for our Big East entry, we will christen the Richard E. Lindner Varsity Village this spring, along with our official dedication of the completed MainStreet and our new, soon-to-be-opened rec center.  Welcome to a suspended track, a climbing wall, a beautiful natatorium, and even a lazy river.  No doubt we will be taking off some pounds by next year’s survey of “leanest campuses!”

Create Opportunity

Ultimately, the opportunity we create at UC comes in the form of students.

  • We’re thrilled to welcome the largest number of Cincinnati Pride scholars ever from CPS (Cincinnati Public Schools), along with our growing 3% increase in enrollment.
  • Completing a great first year with the CAT (our Center for Access and Transition) and its successful transfer of 40% of students moving on to their majors, this year we will be serving another 925 students as we continue to link access to success.
  • Talk about creating opportunity, wait till you hear about our incredible success in giving of ourselves to ourselves to the benefit of our students, faculty and staff.  UC’s “We’re All UC Campaign” owes a debt of gratitude to all of you for fostering opportunity for today and tomorrow.

While the remarkable breakthroughs are documented in our new annual Report Card, this is a very public opportunity to say thank you again to our trustees, our faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends for everything we have accomplished to date.


Still, as we look at this past year’s accomplishments, we must ask ourselves “are we really achieving 21st century status as a university?”  In short, what are the conditions in our global society that present opportunities for the University of Cincinnati to meet and extend its leadership capabilities?

Recall that when we began our visioning process 21 months ago, we were reading Duderstatdt, Womack, Rhodes and others. Often with urgency, they implored us to become a “new” kind of university; they called us to transform ourselves in the image and expectancy a 21st century environment.

Recall Rhodes’ challenge: “Boiling, steaming, frothing at times, a new amalgam must somehow be created within [our universities]…if we are to surmount our social problems and rediscover the civic virtues on which our society depends.” Now the acid test is whether we can truly manifest the characteristics of a new, 21st century university…

As the recent report of the national Council on Competitiveness, called Innovate America, predicts: “Innovation will be the single most important factor in determining America’s success through the 21st century.… For the past 25 years, we have optimized our organizations for efficiency and quality. Over the next quarter century, we must optimize our entire society for innovation.”

This year, the University of Cincinnati marks the centennial celebration of our founding of co-operative education. In fact, just last month our Board of Trustees proclaimed this 100-year experiment a rousing success!    One hundred years ago, our institution pioneered the ground-breaking notion that higher learning could be combined with real-world experience, a concept now emulated in over 1000 institutions worldwide.

Looking to the next 100 years, our university must be equally “cutting-edge.” So far, much of our innovation with UC|21 has been limited to the ways we go about the business of higher education: recruitment, admissions, program redesign, budgeting and decision-making.  True, our external relationships are expanding as well, but clearly we will be called upon to embrace new pathways as we become a truly 21st century university. What are these pathways?

First: Stimulating Innovation.

As UC redefines the new urban research university for the 21st century, leadership in innovation is imperative.

UC, I believe, is uniquely positioned to be a leader among universities in the new innovation economy because of our core capabilities to innovate.  You’ve heard people say that UC stands for “under construction.” I suggest another meaning: “Ubiquitous Creativity” – because innovation is truly omnipresent here.

Co-op plays a strong hand in this, by encouraging an ongoing dialogue, or should I say, “tri-alogue,” between university, student and employer. As we look to innovate, one place to start is our own co-op program and our longstanding commitment to real-world education. It is imperative that we engage more of our disciplines in co-op and bring more reality learning experiences to our students.

We have other innovation pathways in the works here at UC as well:

  • In April, we will host our first-ever exhibit showcasing UC’s wide spectrum of innovative research, scholarship and creativity.  By showing others our works in progress, we believe we can jump-start innovation trends in our region and across the state.
  • Increasing invention disclosures by nearly 20% this past year, our newly reconfigured Office of Intellectual Property has created a new business model to support regional business development and commercialization of ideas generated at UC.
  • Just to show what we can do, DAAP, Engineering, Business, Medicine, A&S and the Office of Research are planning an Innovation Imperative Symposium in March, to stimulate cross-disciplinary incubation of creativity and success.
  • You know, of course, about our Entrepreneurial Launch Pad, which will provide a solid “lift off” for bright ideas and cutting-edge inventions. It will soon pool expertise and resources to create new and successful business ventures.
  •  And thanks to DAAP’s Center for Design Research and Innovation, not only are we preparing future leaders in design, but we are also enabling design innovation through partnerships with corporations, business and industry, both on and off campus.
  • Of course I don’t have to tell you that the Third Frontier is a dynamic engine for innovation.  In partnership with TechSolve, we’re helping small and medium-sized companies operate with innovation and effectiveness – just one example of the many ways Issue One’s Jobs for Ohio can help continue to fuel our collective imagination.
  • As a complement to the Third Frontier, the next several months will be critical as the Ohio Board of Regents works with colleges and universities across the state to design an effective Economic Growth Challenge, an opportunity to enhance the state’s doctoral programs that have the greatest potential to attract preeminent researchers and build research capacity across strategic programs and centers.

Second: Developing Human Capital.

A second pathway to 21st century leadership is what five Nobel Laureates define as the theory of human capital. It’s the accumulated knowledge and skills that a person gains through education, experience and training. 

And indeed the development of human capital stands as a critical factor in urban locations where concentrations of poverty flourish and in a state such as Ohio, where economic performance has proven lackluster for some time.

You know the warning signs of our state’s economic freefall. Ohio is: 

  • 39th in the nation in growth of per capita income;
  • 49th job creation; and
  • 42nd in bachelor’s degree attainment for those 25 and older. 

As the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology points out: “Our innovation ecosystem is the best in the world,” yet that pre-eminence is dependent upon our ability to preserve and strengthen it, primarily through our pipeline of graduates in the STEM disciplines: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The council cautions that U.S. students are weak in math and science skills and lag behind most of the world in these capabilities. And our top U.S. students pursue science, technology and mathematics careers at significantly lower rates than our international counterparts.

What is UC doing on this score? A number of things, and not just at the college level:

  • UC is taking a pre-school through Grade 16 approach,  joining hands with the education, business and civic sectors across the  “Cincinnati USA” region to form the College Access & Success Partnership, or CAP. Together we will work to ensure that our region’s children and youth get the support they need to graduate from high school ready to pursue a college education, and the support they need to complete their degree.
  • UC also has a vision for an innovative partnership with the Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) that would help to address the dearth of STEM grads.  Theoretically, students could start in preschool and end with a PhD at UC. We have begun this dialogue with the Uptown Consortium and CPS, and I am hopeful that we will develop a plan that will make a real difference and serve as a national model.
  • Based in our College of Applied Science, our Dual Enrollment Program works with four Cincinnati Public high schools to encourage at-risk students to consider the college option and earn actual college credits, right from their high school classrooms.
  • To grow the state’s talent pool, recall that UC, in partnership with Ohio’s other public and private colleges and universities, has developed a plan called ROEI (Return on Educational Investment), with a promised down payment of $30 million from the General Assembly, to increase college access and success by 120,000 students over the next 10 years.
  • To make it more convenient for Ohio students to transfer from campus to campus, UC is working with other public and private universities across the state to provide students with user-friendly tools to see how courses can transfer, and how the credits apply to a degree.  UC is the first campus statewide to adopt 38 of the newly developed Transfer Assurance Guides to ensure ease in cross-institutional enrollment.
  • And once students get to college, UC is working to get them off to Great Beginnings, a comprehensive first year experience to include integrated learning communities, first-year seminars, and first year readings. UC is truly at the forefront of this discussion, especially among research-extensive institutions, as we continue our design of a truly 21st century Integrated Core Learning approach.

Third: Applying business practices where appropriate!

A third 21st century pathway requires applying business practices where appropriate. An expression often heard in academics is “A university is not a business.” So, I broach this subject with some trepidation.   Still a recent article with this title, “A University Is Not a Business (and Other Fantasies)” did catch my attention.

Setting aside the accusations that academic administrators have “gone corporate,” Milton Greenberg puts forth some interesting arguments about institutional self-concept in the 21st century.   He observes,  “a twenty-first-century system with multimedia information resources, available on demand anywhere and sought by a multifarious worldwide audience, will require different collaborative organizational properties, in which the individual student or scholar is the focal point and the organizational units are rendered secondary….If higher education is to lead its own renewal, it must think about its people, its property, and its productivity in business terms.”

Translate to UC:  Surely our institution has made much progress in this area with our budget approach reorganized around our six UC|21 goals, with our 50 in 5 enrollment-driven revenue plan, data-based decision-making, and a new entrepreneurial spirit. But there is much more work remaining, and we must bear in mind some basic principles of business innovation as we go about our work.

Business in the 21st century also demands better and top-quality delivery of services at all levels. In the total quality management world, the Baldrige Award is akin to the Oscar in the movie industry.

UC must work to provide-Baldrige-worthy service in all programs and units. Global competition and increasing privitization only make this challenge even more pressing.

Our university must also continue to examine and reinvent our academic programs, eliminating some that no longer have vibrancy while bringing new ones on line where needed.  There may be some things that simply have to go.  Selective excellence and strategic research investment must carry the day.

In addition, our charge to become 24/7 is not just about food service.  It’s about the curriculum. In the last year, we have added six more distance learning programs to our roster, for a total of 15. Distance learning enrollment has jumped 60 percent over last fall and will undoubtedly continue to grow. Our elimination of evening college a few years ago was about structure, not delivery of programming.  We must continue to stretch our offerings across the day and across all days of the week to meet modern demands.

Our 21st century business model also calls for a 21st century communication strategy. We must tell the UC story in new and bolder ways. Our communications must be coordinated, consistent and clear.

We have a plan for achieving new prominence for UC, and each of us has a role in changing perceptions about UC. Each of us has opportunities every day to tell the new UC story, to spread the news that we are building the prototypical urban research university for the 21st century.

Fourth: Fostering human interaction.

And fourth in our important pathways is our ability to foster human interaction. According to UC alumnus Robert Herbold, the Fiefdom Syndrome is a problem that begins when individuals, groups, or divisions – out of fear – seek to make themselves vital to their organizations, try to protect their turf and gain as much control as possible over what goes on.

He writes that “organizations infected with fiefdoms tend to kill off or stifle individual creativity, leading to what [he] call[s] the ‘freeze factor’: when organizations become frozen or stuck in place, letting competitors pass them by.”

One important capacity to overcome this insulating behavior is human interaction. What better place is there to foster this than a university environment of free-wheeling intellectual exchange, interdisciplinary programs and international partnerships? 

British educator and critic Eric Ashby wrote that “the great American contribution to higher education has been to dismantle the walls around campus.” In the 21st century, we must also take down the walls that separate us from one another, and work even harder and more holistically with those off campus to solve community problems.

How is UC bringing down the walls?

  • Our upcoming Research Investment Master Plan will tell us much more as we look to scale up our research aspirations and create strong multidisciplinary centers.
  • Our Center for the City, by Spring 2006, will open as a portal to university resources for organizations wanting to partner with UC. Spring will also launch our City Fellows program, bringing community experts to campus and UC experts to the community.
  • The Uptown Consortium continues to make progress and is seeking a consultant who will study the potential for a research park in Uptown. In January, the consortium will announce new projects to be funded through the $52 million New Markets Tax Credit allocations we won in May. This money will be used to leverage up to $200 million in private investment with an expected 800 jobs to be generated.
  • Our capacity for human interaction also calls upon us to increasingly serve as “boundary spanners” – people who bridge the missions of different institutions, organizations and agencies.  One example is our Niehoff Urban Design Studio, which puts professors and students to work on community planning issues.
  • And on the anti-fiefdom front, our Advanced Center for Telemedicine and Surgical Innovation and the voice consortium, both works in progress, are prime examples, as well as our internationally renowned Neuroscience Institute, our Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Stroke Team, the new Taft Research Center, our new auto design/transportation track and the Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights. Even though some of these have been around for years, they are indeed 21st century in they way they foster human interaction.

As we look to the future of our innovation economy, I would like to emphasize one more, albeit less tangible, quality we will need aplenty in the 21st century: in a word, “optimism.” Let me turn to The World is Flat, mandatory reading this past summer. Friedman opines that while the tragedy of 9/11 has “powerfully” shaped our lives going forward, our world also has been transformed by 11-9-1989 – the date that the Berlin Wall fell.

That’s when barriers that isolated so much of the world for so long began to disappear. He suggests that we need the optimism of 11/9, not the fear of 9-11, to flourish.

Friedman concludes as I do:

“The world is being flattened. I didn’t start it, and you can’t stop it, except at a great cost to human development and your own future. But we can manage it, for better or worse. If it is to be for better, not for worse, then [we] and [our] generation must not live in fear of either the terrorists of tomorrow, of either Al-Queda or Infosys.  [We] can flourish in this flat world, but it does take the right imagination and the right motivation.  While [our] lives have been powerfully shaped by 9/11, the world needs [us] to be forever the generation of 11/9 – the generation of strategic optimists, the generation with more dreams than memories, the generation that wakes up each morning and not only imagines that things can be better but also acts on that imagination every day.”