President Offers Mental Exercise: Imagine UW as 3 Different Places

President Richard L. McCormick is challenging the members of the UW community to create a "culture of possibilities" that would help build a better university—and a better world.

"We have already begun," he said in remarks delivered Oct. 4 in Kane Hall during his annual address to the UW community. "But the full flowering of this university of the future will require our most visionary thinking, our greatest enthusiasm, and our hardest work. It will also bring the most enduring rewards, both for us and for the local, national, and global communities we ultimately serve."

McCormick described what he called a "mental model" that provides insight into future possibilities for the institution. In that model, there are actually three Universities of Washington: the High-Tech and Biomedical Institute, the University of the Quad and the University of Rising Expectations. Although deeply entwined with each other, the three UWs have very different budgets, priorities, politics and partners. Each sees distinctly different challenges and opportunities.

The Biomedical Institute is a national leader in research, educational programs, industry collaborations and creating spin-off companies. This institution was born shortly after World War II, nurtured by federal research support and the vision of UW President Charles Odegaard. The growth in computer technology and biotechnology industries has added impetus to this segment of the campus. Federal initiatives in coming years are likely to benefit areas of the UW with unique strengths, such as genomics, photonics and nanotechnology. The chief challenges for the Institute are to find modern facilities, local matching funds that are required for the largest federal grants, and adequate compensation to recruit and retain top researchers.

The Quad is the traditional heart of the university. It is the entity responsible for educating most undergraduates, graduate and professional students. The Quad's chief challenge is to transform teaching and learning to meet the needs of the 21st century. But it is already in the forefront of providing research opportunities for undergraduates, as well as community service and interdisciplinary programs. It already has made exemplary use of information technology to transform teaching and learning. However, the Quad suffers from a chronic shortage of resources. McCormick cited one measure of this shortage: "The dollars we spend to educate each student would have to rise by more than 18 percent to meet the state's avowed goal for funding this institution relative to its peer universities."

The newest of the triumvirate is the University of Rising Expectations. It corresponds with a change in public perception that is less than a decade old, identifying higher education as essential for almost everyone. Along with this growing recognition has come a renewed drive to reform K-12 education, both for its own sake and to act as better preparation for a college degree. The paramount challenge for this institution is access—for greater numbers of students in general, for students from less affluent families and for minority students.

McCormick concluded that in his mental model, the UW's ultimate goal is to build a fourth University, "a university in which each of us, in some dimension of his or her work, touches all three of the worlds I've been describing." To build this futuristic vision will require breaking down the boundaries between disciplines, expanding opportunities for undergraduates to participate in research and scholarship, and bridging the divides of race and culture. The boundaries within the entire educational system need to be "flexible and permeable." Additionally, the University must build more bridges with the larger community. "Both students and faculty want to connect their work with the world outside. They want to feel that they are making contributions to that world," he said.

This is not a completely new direction for the University, he added. Several projects already under way illustrate that this direction is "the road to our best future." What these ventures share is the understanding that we live in a time of great change, facing challenges that require us to join the forces of the three universities.

"Universities are poised, over the next 10 or 20 years, to make tremendous contributions," he said. "We will need to learn from one another, inspire one another, and make common use of our vast array of strengths and ideas."

Home / Current Issue / Archives / Talk Back / Advertising / Columns FAQ / Alumni Website / Search