Proenza gives final address
UA President Luis Proenza gave his annual State of the University Address on Wednesday in the Student Union Ballroom.
This address was his 15th and final one before retiring as the president of UA.
“From the first day that he arrived here on campus,” Trustees Chairman Richard W. Pogue said, “Luis has presented himself as an agent of change and he has continually lived up to that proposition over the entire period of these 15 years, to the benefit of all of us.”
Pogue said that it shouldn’t be a surprise that once Proenza decided to make a personal change the university proudly embraced him.
“We are all grateful for the many institutional accomplishments that we have made together under his strong leadership,” Pogue said. “This institution has vastly improved from the position that it was in when he arrived.”
During his address, titled “Undisputed Excellence,” Proenza discussed the accomplishments and changes the UA campus has experienced over the past 15 years and where it will be going.
“The past 15 years have witnessed perhaps the most substantive and dramatic transformation of this university since its founding in 1870,” Proenza said. “Our collective efforts have achieved far more than even we envisioned when we began. And yet, we have new opportunities ahead and the responsibility to continue this upward momentum.”
Proenza said that 15 years ago, one would rarely find a positive mention of UA in major media or at policy meetings.
“This wasn’t for lack of material — there was ample evidence of excellence on this campus,” he said. “Sometimes we were unaware of this excellence, other times … we simply didn’t talk about it.”
Of his other points, Proenza said that when he began at the university in 1999, enrollment had remained flat for the third year in a row after having fallen over the previous decade. He also mentioned the physical appearance of the campus 15 years ago, which consisted of many buildings in need of repair or replacement.
“But it was clear in 1999 that this university community was ready and eager to advance,” he said.
Proenza continued by saying the university has acted thoughtfully, boldly and with purpose to enhance the relevance, connectivity and productivity of UA. These are the three principles that define the Akron model, he said.
Among the accomplishments Proenza addressed were a list of initiatives, including The University of Akron Research Foundation, University Park Alliance, and the Akron Experience initiative, among others.
As for the physical campus, the university has added 22 new buildings, added or renovated 18 other structures and added 34 acres of new green space, Proenza said. They have also planted more than 30,000 trees and bushes and added many plazas and walkways. Proenza said this collection of changes to the university has created perhaps the most beautiful metropolitan-sited campus in the country.
“Just yesterday, a visitor to campus who hadn’t seen it in almost 20 years said essentially those same words,” he said.
Proenza said that while there has been plenty of investment into the university, the return has been just as large. These returns have included the pride of students, faculty and staff when bringing visitors to campus, and a change in the community’s perception of our university, he said.
He added that the New Landscape for Learning is too new to realize its full effect, citing the success of EJ Thomas Performing Arts Hall.
“As with the university’s EJ Thomas Performing Arts Hall, which on its 40th anniversary is hailed as a ‘flagship performance venue’ and as a ‘powerful economic asset for downtown Akron,’ the coming years will only further validate the wisdom of our investment in the New Landscape for Learning,” he said.
Proenza also talked about the productivity in research at UA, saying that the university discloses more than 70 new inventions annually on average and has been ranked No. 1 in the world in patents per research dollar. UA is also ranked No. 1 in Ohio licensing revenue among public universities and No. 7 in the U.S. in total licensing revenue for universities without a medical school.
“Indeed, our faculty has accrued a significant record of research achievement,” he said. “Thanks to their excellent work, our statement that ‘The University of Akron is the public research university for Northeast Ohio’ is not just a claim or a boast — it is simply a fact.”
Proenza said that these investments and returns over the past 15 years are proof that the university has come a long way.
“The path behind us shows our progress,” he said. “And while we have earned the right to celebrate, we now must look to the path before us with a determination to build on our momentum.”
He continued by saying the highest priority this year is to improve student recruitment, retention and progress to degree completion. He also said that the Board of Trustees approved a revised balanced budget a few weeks ago. State funding is at a low and the tuition revenue from enrollment is of great importance.
Proenza also said that when he addresses the Faculty Senate Thursday, he will recommend a change that will help better organize the university.
“I will call for the creation of a series of interdisciplinary institutes or centers based on our strengths, opportunities in the marketplace, and challenges that now hinder economic development in Northeast Ohio,” he said, adding that the first steps to creating these collaborative enterprises have already been taken.
While the merging of the Buchtel College of Arts & Sciences with the College of Creative and Professional Arts and creation of the College of Health Professions helped align the university, it is not enough, he said. The university has to continue to find ways to execute its goals.
Before closing, Proenza called the university community to address three issues: the assuring of a successful and innovative outcome of the Academic Review Process; the revisiting of the organization of the university’s schools and colleges; and the implementation of the proposed revision to the education curriculum, including a reduction to 120 credit hours to graduate.
“It is vital that we have a seamless first two years that can be applied toward almost any major; that we maintain the high completion rates of students admitted directly into majors and colleges; that we assess student learning; and that we facilitate the movement of students from pre-major status to major status,” he said.
At the end of his address, Proenza said that he wanted to note that the university has come a long way.
“Whereas the university once was an institution of undiscovered excellence, we now recognize it as a university of growing and undisputed excellence,” he said. “You — the students, the faculty, the staff, the alumni, the friends — you are The University of Akron. You possess the undisputed excellence that will carry us into the future.”